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!

School Skills For Babies and Toddlers, Part 3: Math

Now that we’ve got reading and writing under control, we’ll tackle math. I have found that most adults seem dislike math or think it’s too hard, but children LOVE it! Math is fun, and somehow as we grow older it becomes “work” and we forget how much fun it really is. Plus, math skills are so important, both in and out of school, as children and as adults. Since math skills build upon each other, it’s really important for kids to have a firm grasp on the basics before they can move on. Setting a firm foundation in math skills is one way you can ensure success, and not frustration, when your child gets to school. Learning should be fun for kids and part of your daily life–no flash cards or lectures necessary! You can start doing any of these things with your baby or toddler to help prepare them for their math days ahead.

Number Concepts:

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  • Count- Count everything-the numbers on a mailbox, how many apple slices your child is eating for lunch, how many buttons are on his shirt, how many stairs you walk up to the nursery. If you’re feeling fancy, count by 2’s, 5’s and 10’s as well. Don’t forget to include zero sometimes, and count backward as well!
  • Ordinals- Talk about ordinal numbers (first, second, third, etc.) as you see them in your world (“The tree is the first plant by our fence, the rose bush is second, and the shrub is third.”).
  • Represent numbers- Show your child with concrete examples of what each number represents. For instance, get a group of five objects and count them together: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. You can then show them the number 5 and say “This is a five. When we see the number five, we can think of five ____.”
  • More or less- As you’re playing with blocks or Legos, make groups of objects that are obviously more or less (and towers that are shorter or taller). Talk about which group  has more and which one has less, or point out which tower is taller and which one is shorter. You can even throw in the words “most” and “tallest” for some added challenge.
  • Sing number songs and say number rhymes like “One, Two Buckle My Shoe” and “The Ants Go Marching”

Colors

  • Point out colors- Find colors all around you, and talk about them. Talk about the colors on your child’s clothes, the colors of his favorite toys, and the colors on his dinner plate. It’s also helpful to point out color variances (a light blue ball versus a dark blue train).
  • Sing about colors- We like to sing about the colors we see. As I’m getting David dressed in the morning we’ll sing a song to the tune of “Here We Go ‘Round the Mulberry Bush”: “David is wearing his yellow shirt, yellow shirt, yellow shirt. David is wearing his yellow shirt, all day long.” and we’ll repeat the song with as many different articles of clothing as we can.
  • Do a color sort- Find an object that is a single color and have your child find other objects in the room that are the same color. Repeat with another object of another color. Start a collection of “green things” or “blue things” that you can add to throughout the day.

Shapes

  • Look for shapes in your world- Find circles, squares, rectangles, triangles, and rhombuses (the official name for diamonds) all around you. Point them out on road signs, in the grocery store, in books and when you’re playing in the park
  • Name 3-D shapes- As you’re pointing out shapes to your little one, don’t forget to show them 3-D shapes like spheres (balls), cones (ice cream cones), cubes (square boxes), and cylinders (an empty oatmeal container or soup can).

Time

  • Talk about what you’re doing first, what you’ll do next, and what you’ll do last (“First we’ll take off your dirty diaper, then we’ll wipe your bottom, and last we’ll put on a clean, dry diaper”).
  • Point out things that you did yesterday (or this morning), and give your child a preview about what will happen tomorrow (or what will happen after lunch, after his nap, etc).
  • Show how things change over time- show your toddler a picture of him as a baby, point out his empty plate after dinner (where once there was food, now it’s gone!), let your baby watch–from a safe distance–as you boil water for tea (see how hot and bubbly the water got!).

Patterns

  • Find patterns around you- The stripes on his shirt, the lines going down the middle of the road, the spots on a leopard at the zoo.
  • Create patterns together- Pick out two colors of blocks, and lay them out in an alternating “AB” pattern (red, blue, red, blue…). Have your child help you continue your pattern.
  • Find patterns in books- Many stories have language patterns that are pretty easy to pick out. Find these patterns and talk about them. Also, many books that your child may be familiar with have patterns (For instance, many books have a pattern of 3’s: 3 pigs, 3 bears, 3 wishes).

Sorting and Matching
You can really sort anything. Just choose a property(size, shape, color, feel), and start sorting! You’ll have to do the sorting for the tiny ones, but your toddler can help out or even start doing it on his own.

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  • Have your toddler help you sort socks when you’re folding the laundry. Two birds, one stone.
  • Sort objects by type: crayons in one pile, balls in another pile
  • Sort objects by size: big sticks in one pile, small sticks in another pile
  • Sort objects by color: purple toys here, green toys there, and yellow toys over there
  • Sort objects by use: toys in one pile, clothes in another pile
  • Sort objects by feel: rough materials here, smooth ones there
  • Do puzzles
  • Match two halves: Cut a picture in half. Match the two ends together to complete the picture.
  • Have your toddler help you sort the silverware as you’re putting away the dishes.

Measurement

  • Talk about long, longer, longest; tall, taller, and tallest; small, smaller and smallest; big, bigger and biggest; and short, shorter, shortest. Find examples around your house.
  • Measure an object (or your child!) with “non-standard units”. How many Legos tall is the chair? How many toothpicks long is Mommy’s shoe?
  • Weigh produce at the grocery store. Which is heavier: the watermelon or the onion?
  • Record your child’s height on a growth chart and watch how he grows over time.
  • Pour the same amount of liquid into different sizes of containers to see how the surface area changes
  • Have your toddler help you measure ingredients while you’re cooking together
  • Hold different-sized objects to feel which is heavier and lighter

Math is all around us, and your baby or toddler will love learning with you!