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Teaching Early Science Skills

Science can be a very enjoyable subject to teach. You don’t even need your standard textbook to do it. Here are some skills to work on with your little scientists.

Some of the first skills that a scientist needs to learn are:


Observing is a skill that children seem to be born with. That’s how they do the majority of their early learning and just as often this is how they pick up on social and behavioral skills as they mature. The trick here is to see if they can observe and then consciously recall what they have seen.

Pick an area of the yard, a picture in a book, etc. Have the child look at the chosen area or target for one minute. Then, close the book or turn away from the area. Have them list, verbally or in writing (or picture notes), what they saw. This is observation. And you’d be surprised what they can get focused on.

Sorting seems to be another skill that is acquired early on. A child with sort their blocks into certain piles, group their baby dolls, their cars and other toys, etc. This sometimes comes out in unusual ways. A child may choose to eat only foods that are a certain color or shape. Books around the house will get sorted by color and shape instead of by author. They will only wear certain color combinations. And so on.

One way of teaching them to consciously sort objects is to have them sort objects.

You will need:
A pencil
A plant
A shoe
A weed
A toy
A spoon
A crayon
A book

Gather all the materials listed above. Sort the objects into two groups. Group one will be objects that were alive. Group two will be objects that are not alive. If they make some unusual choices (in your opinion) ask them why they think that object belongs in that group. You’ll be surprised at the logic behind some of their choices. For instance, my son put a shoe in group two. When I asked him why, he said it was because shoes are made from leather and leather comes from cows. So, even though technically, a shoe is a “not alive” object, his logic saw more complicated relationships.

Comparing is finding the differences and similarities between objects. This is another skill they acquire early on. They compare what they received to what a sibling received in size and portion. They compare themselves to the opposite sex and learn that there are boys and girls. They compare pets, etc.

Here’s an easy activity for this. What you need:
Several leaves from different kinds of trees and/or bushes

Place a leaf under a piece of paper. Rub a crayon on top of the paper which is over the leaf until you can see the outline of the whole leaf. Repeat this activity until you have several leaf prints. Compare the leaf print pictures. How are the leaf prints different? How are they the same?

Recording is another skill. This one is not as natural as the others we have discussed, but is just as important for them. You can easily illustrate this by observing a coin that is being flipped “heads or tails” and recording the results.

Flip a coin in the air. Observe how it lands – heads or tails. Record your observation on a chart that is similar to the one below. Repeat these steps until your charts is complete.

First Flip    heads     tails
Second Flip    heads     tails
Third Flip    heads     tails
Fourth Flip    heads     tails
Fifth Flip    heads     tails
Sixth Flip    heads     tails
Seventh Flip    heads     tails
Eighth Flip    heads     tails
Ninth Flip    heads     tails
Tenth Flip    heads     tails

Total number of heads circled: ______________
Total number of tails circled: _______________

Classifying is the next skill to learn after recording. It’s a combination of observing, sorting, and comparing where you begin to put objects in more specific, defined groups. Such classifying can go beyond whether something is alive or not alive. You can classify by animal, plant, rock, etc. Then within these groups are even more defined classifications such as mammal, insect, evergreen, sedimentary rocks, etc.

Safety is a big part of the whole picture. For a list of simple safety rules to use see Safe and Simple Science Rules.


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