Science experiments are a great way to introduce kids to the wonders of nature. Even kids who spend a lot of time outside will likely not have taken more than a passing glance at the trees, plants, and flowers that fill their world. After a few nature experiments, they'll never see common plants in quite the same way.
Needed: access to different types of trees within walking distance, bag to put the leaves in, chart of leaf shapes (optional)
Challenge Question: What shapes do leaves come in?
Do It: Go for a walk around the neighborhood and look for different kinds of leaves. Try to find many different shapes and sizes. Collect one of each.
Can they find ways to sort the leaves? Do some of the leaves look similar? You can get them started by noticing that two leaves are about the same shape, or that they both have jagged edges. Ask what they learned about leaves.
Tip: You can take this to another level by printing out a chart of leaf shapes such as this one. While this is a scientific chart, even first graders will be able to match their leaves to the shapes on the chart. They will love the fact that actual scientists use a leaf chart like this for their science experiments!
Needed: trees and plants to examine, scavenger hunt questions
Challenge Question: What can you learn about plants and trees by looking around you?
Do It: Tell kids that scientists find answers to questions by examining the world around them, and that they are going on a scavenger hunt to find answers to some science questions. First, try to guess the answer to the questions. Then, look at plants and leaves to test your answers.
Tip: Some first graders may feel frustrated at not knowing
the right answer. Let them know that often not even
scientists know an answer for sure. We are always learning and discovering new things.
Needed: a few dry beans, plastic ziplok baggie, paper towel, spray bottle, magnifying glass (optional)
Challenge Question: How does a bean grow into a plant?
Do It: Explain to kids that a bean is a kind of seed. We are going to examine a bean and watch how it grows.
Step 1: Look closely at the bean. What does it look like? What does it feel like? Where do you think the plant will come out from?
Step 2: Put a bean in water for several hours. Carefully pry open the bean at the seam. You will see two open halves of the bean, with a mini plant inside. Let kids examine this.
Step 3: Get a different bean to plant. Moisten a couple of paper towels and put them in the baggie with the bean. Close the baggie and put it in a well-lit spot, but out of direct sun.
Step 4: Watch your bean every day. Open the baggie each day to check the paper towel. If it is dry, spray it once or twice with the spray bottle before closing the bag up again.
Step 5: Talk about the changes that happen each day and what kids notice. You can also write down or draw pictures of what is happening for a week. Encourage them to add details to their drawings.
The great thing about doing bean science experiments in baggies is that kids can see both the roots and the plant growing at the same time. When it gets bigger, they can repot it in soil.
Needed: samples of edible seeds such as assorted nuts, soybeans, snap peas or other peas in a pod, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, etc.
Challenge Question: What are some seeds we eat?
Do It: Ask and answer questions about seeds. Where do seeds come from? What do seeds have in common? How are they different? Examine the seeds.
Taste the different nuts and seeds. Why do we call some seeds
seeds and other seeds
nuts? How are nuts and seeds
Tip: You can follow up by finding other kinds of seeds. All nuts, beans and peas are seeds, and so are fruit pits. You can also cut open an apple to find its seeds, and strawberry seeds are stuck to the outside of the fruit!
Needed: white carnations, vase, food coloring
Challenge Question: How does a plant drink water?
Prep: This experiment works best with thirsty plants. Leave your carnations out of water for a couple of hours before doing this experiment.
Do It: Talk about how a plant
drinks water. How does water get inside the plant? What do the roots do?
What do the veins do? What parts of the flower get water first?
Tell kids that you they are going to color the water so they can actually see where the water goes. Partially fill a vase with water and add drops of food coloring until the color is strong. Put the thirsty carnations in the water.
It can take up to 24 hours to color the whole plant. Check in every few hours to see what is happening and talk about the changes.
Tip: While carnations make a beautiful show of color, I've seen similar science experiments using celery that work just as well. Be sure to put plenty of food coloring in the water to make the colors more vivid.
Doing nature science experiments with kids may bring up questions you don't know how to answer. That's ok; you are both scientists, and scientists try to figure out answers together.
Talk together about your best guesses, and decide how to find the answers. You might look on the internet, visit the library, or talk with a gardener friend. When science experiments are approached with an attitude of discovery, there is no limit to the learning that can take place!