School Skills For Babies and Toddlers, Part 4: Science

Babies and toddlers are natural explorers and experimenters. Everything in their world is new to them and requires further investigation. Science, then, comes quite naturally to young children. Here are some ways I help guide my kids in their scientific discoveries!

Make Observations

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  • Note properties of objects in your baby’s world: the size, shape, color, feel, smell, taste (when appropriate. Which, for a baby, happens to be all the time) and sound it makes. For instance, when you’re feeding ducks at the duck pond you can say, “See the duck in the pond? It’s a small brown duck. It makes a quacking sound. Feel a feather. It’s soft and shiny.”
  • Compare objects and their properties- Which slide in the park is bigger? Which snack tastes saltier, the cracker or the grape? What shape is the cover of the book we just read? Which is softer, your blanket or the baby wipes case?
  • When you’re at the park, on a walk, or even in your living room just stop and make observations. What sounds can you hear (a bird, an airplane, the dishwasher)? How does it feel (warm, hot, cold)? What can you smell (a flower, fresh-cut grass, dinner cooking in the oven)?
  • Play peek-a-boo: your baby will be observing you like crazy!
  • Describe your food: “See this grape. It’s green and round like an oval. It’s smooth and shiny. Let’s taste it. Yum! It’s sweet and juicy, even a bit tart.”
  • Point out “same” and “different”: “See these two toys? They are both the same because they’re both blue and can fit in my hand. They’re different because this one bounces and this one makes a rattling sound when I shake it.”
  • Turn off all the lights when it’s getting dark out and play with flashlights. See if your little one can find objects with his light. Or, you hold the light and shine it over the floor–have your little one chase the light (toddlers really are a lot like puppies!)

Explore Cause and Effect

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  • Build a block tower (or soup can tower) and knock it down. Then build it back up and knock it down again. Repeat.
  • Play “Sink or Float”- Get a tub of water (or play in the bath tub). One by one, drop objects into the water to see if they sink or float. For your older toddler, you can have them make a prediction of sink or float before you put the object in the water
  • When your child does something naughty (what, YOUR little angel be naughty?) explain–in not too many words–the effect of their actions. When you hit, it hurts. When you throw your food, it makes a mess. When you scream that high-pitched whiny scream at the top of your lungs from the back seat of the car, it makes Mommy veer off the road. Then let your little rebel help make restitution for their “effects” (here’s a rag to clean up the mashed bananas in the carpet, Sweetie).
  • Note what happens when you blow air into a balloon. If your baby doesn’t startle too easily, let them see what happens when you KEEP blowing into the balloon (POP!).

Experiment and Investigate

David - 0034Kids naturally want to explore their surroundings. Set up safe boundaries to allow your child to explore on their own or with your guidance. And don’t worry if your toddler gets dirty–they can always take a bath!

  • Cook with your kids
  • Play in the dirt, a sand box, or a mud puddle
  • Make predictions- What do you think will happen if we put this cup of yogurt in the freezer during your nap? (Then eat the frozen yogurt for a snack when he wakes up!)
  • Make a “sensory box”- fill a plastic bin with sand, dry rice or beans (*Note* small beans can be a choking hazard for the little guys, so use your discretion here). Put some small cups, spoons, or even excavator toys in the bin for digging around.
  • If your baby wants to see what it feels like to smear pureed carrots through her hair, let her give it a go. If your toddler wants to help dress himself in mismatched boots and backward sweat pants, let him. Young children learn by doing, even if it’s something we’d rather they not be doing. As long as they’re safe, there’s no harm in letting them experiment.
  • Put baby in a backpack and go for a good ‘ol nature walk. Point out the plants, animals, sights, and sounds around you.
  • Explore static- Rub a balloon on your hair and watch it stand up
  • Explore friction- Rub your baby with her towel to warm up after a bath

Weather and Temperature

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  • Talk about the weather when you look outside in the morning, are driving in the car, or are playing in the park. Play meteorologist for your baby and name the weather: sunny, cloudy, foggy, snowy, rainy (or, if you’re from Seattle, you can use the fancy rain words: drizzly, showers, downpour, sprinkles, misty, monsoon).
  • Talk about day and night, morning and afternoon- note how it gets dark and night and light during the day. The sun (or, in Seattle, the light clouds) come out in the day and the moon comes out at night.
  • Notice temperature changes- it’s warm inside and cold outside (at least where I’m from. If you’re lucky, you live in a place where it’s cool inside and hot outside. Can you tell it’s winter in Seattle right now?)

Know Your Body

  • Sing and “play” “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”–point out the body parts on your baby as you sing or have your toddler point them out on himself.
  • Lay your baby on her back and gently touch a body part and say what it is. Repeat 3-4 times before moving on to another body part: “Where is your chin? There’s your chin! There’s your chin! There’s your chin!”
  • Use proper names when talking about your child’s body parts. You might feel weird saying the proper name instead of some other cutesy word, but it’s important for kids to learn the correct vocabulary.
  • Read body books- As you’re reading, have your child find the body parts that are in the book. One of my favorites is “Here Are My Hands” by Bill Martin Jr.

Have fun exploring with your baby–you will probably both learn a lot in the process!

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