Science in the Early Childhood Classroom


  • Introduction
  • Integration with other subjects
  • Physical skills
  • Observational or sense words
  • Concepts and Generalizations for early science curriculum
  • Activities by topics
  • Color
  • Paper
  • Fasteners
  • Construction
  • Sand
  • Air
  • Senses
  • Nature
  • Dirt
  • Music
  • Animal
  • Store
  • Space
  • Light
  • Plant
  • Water
  • Tools

Students in the early childhood classroom vary greatly in their abilities to sense and describe objects. They also have a great variance in their development of thought processes and the types of operations they are able to perform, both physical and mental. Identifying objects, properties of those objects, sorting, grouping and ordering objects by single or multiple properties.

Piaget demonstrated children need hands-on experiences just beyond their present cognitive level for them to learn to perform logical operations. Repetition must also be provided to maintain and reinforce acquired physical skills and mental operations. Through discussion, language can be developed along with vocabulary, reading readiness, socialization, and dispositions that can lead to future successes.

As students explore and create answers to their problems we need to look at their solutions not as correct or incorrect, but on a continuum from where students are as they start their activity, to where they might progress today within a continuum toward science literacy. This creates a developmental approach of better answers based on what students gain from their activity. If we take this approach students will not necessarily give right or wrong answers, but better answers depending on their level. A child's explanation of gravity will not be as detailed as a middle school student, or a middle school student as detailed as a high school student, or a college student as detailed as a physicist. That does not make any of them right or wrong nor does it put any of them at a disadvantage, as each has probably developed a concept of gravity that is sufficient to meet their needs at their particular level.

The idea of learning as developmental puts extra importance on beginning the development of processes skills at an early age since development takes time. The idea of science as labeling activities for memorizing vocabulary and definitions has not served us well. It is imperative children in a technological society are provided with learning experiences that allow them to conceptualize powerful scientific concepts and develop skills to use the scientific processes in their practice of science. These abilities must be facilitated in a positive risk free environment so students develop positive attitudes toward science and dispositions scientist use in their practice to inquire and investigate in a variety of perspectives.

Hands-on science for younger children helps them perform at their ability level and creates enjoyment from their being "in charge" and the progress they experience. As children develop more positive attitudes and interests in science, their achievement, understanding, and appreciation of their environment increases. Students learn how to use science to understand and explain the world, to solve problems in their everyday lives and develop attitudes that are necessary to recognize science as a necessary tool to maintain a quality life for all on Earth.

For the young child it is not what the teacher "knows" that is important but what and how the teacher provides experiences for them to discover and learn. Not by giving answers, but by asking questions, learning is conveyed as a process of thinking, hypothesizing, and experimenting in an active creative manner that is exciting, challenging, and fun.

Children learn by modeling behaviors of others. Teachers who model learning along with their students teach the processes and dispositions that will be the foundation for them to solve real world problems for a lifetime of learning and exploration of the world.

Integration of science with other subjects:

Physical activity

When students interact with objects or participate in hands-on activities we often neglect to consider the physical actions they perform and the importance of those actions for developing not only fine motor skills, but problem solving, logic, and creativity. Here are actions that students learn and practice with such interactions:


To Slide, Roll, Jump, Skip, Walk, Run, Hop, Throw, Splash, Spill, Smash, Mash, Throw, Press, Scratch, Pluck, Shout, Blow


To Slide, Roll, Lift, Splash, Spill, Squeeze, Smash, Mash, Suck


To Hold, Drop, Stop, Remain Still

Balance with push and pull together

To Support, Carry, Pour, Wet, Water, Fill, Empty, Stir, Mix, Soak, Rip, Open, Dig, Shake

Sensing beyond touch

Smell, Listen, Taste, Look, and Talk

Talk to shout, cry, giggle, whine, whisper, hiccup


When students sort and create classes they are not only doing science, but they are preparing for math as the first step in quantifying something is to select a group or class to count. When groups are made, then question related to science and math can be asked questions or given tasks such as:


Create word cards for names of objects and properties of the objects. Have students use the property cards for different objects so that they can see that different objects can have the same properties.

Use yarn to make circles for students to sort objects by properties by putting the objects into yarn circles that represent certain properties (Venn diagrams).

Use the cards and have students put them in order to make sentences about what they know.

Have students draw pictures and use the words to label the properties of different objects. Use the pages to make a dictionary of objects and their properties or characteristics.

Read a story with a lot of description and have students identify the property words. Chart the words. How many of the words have students already learned or put on the word wall. For example, many early education curriculum focus on senses. Here is a sample list to use in conjunction with activities related to human senses:

Vocabulary Used to Describe Observable Properties

Words to describe properties observed through seeing:

bright, dull, shiny, dazzle, dingy, sparkle, wavy, gnarled, smooth, rough, cloudy, transparent, translucent, opaque, clear, shady, light, dark, dreary, crooked, flashing, narrow, wide, wrinkled, blinking, vibrating, moving, still, fast, slow, glowing, jagged, sharp

Words to describe properties observed through touching:

smooth, rough, bumpy, sticky, soft, hard, solid, firm, cool, cold, warm, slimy, slippery, freezing, damp, prickly, sharp, wet, light, weight, heavy, crisp, hot, tickle, dry, furry, jagged, crunchy, scalding, sandy, pointy

Words to describe properties observed through listening:

rattle, cry, shriek, crash, bang, boom, snap, crackle, pop, fizz, ping, pong, ding, dong, singing, splash, drip, squeak, sqwack, squeal, gasp, creak, croak, chirp, roar, buzz, whispers

Words to describe properties observed through smelling:

smoky, musty, damp, acrid, sweet, sour, grassy, woody, fresh, outdoorsy, hospital, alcohol, pungent, rotten, spicy, sweaty, skunky, burnt

Words to describe properties observed through tasting:

sweet, sour, salty, bitter, spicy, peppery, savory, rich, salty, hot, medium, cool, crunchy, creamy, cold, fizzy, juicy, dry, slimy ,goushy, tasty

Concepts and Generalizations for early science curriculum

Don't be afraid to try activities and learn with the students. Your modeling of the science processes and your attitudes will be some of the most important lessons you teach, because as students develop positive attitudes about science and the ability to inquire they are gaining the freedom to do their own learning.

Science Activities for the Early Childhood Classroom by topics

Color related activities

Focus Questions

Grouping Activity

Group the crayons in a box of crayons.

Focus Questions

Instructional ideas

If the amount of groups isn’t workable ask them to group them into smaller groups or put more crayons in each group or give them a number of groups to put them into. Discuss how and why the groups are being made. Mention that people decide how to group objects and can choose different ways for different purposes.

Give students a piece of paper with a grid of squares (Make a grid with the number of rows of squares according to the number of color groups you want. Have them color with one color in each square. Might use the colors of the rainbow plus browns and blacks.

Pick a group of objects that students can use to go on a color hunt. Example fruit. Select one fruit for each grouping of students. Hold up one (banana) ask the students to observe what colors are on the banana. Use their color sheets and match colors to the colors on the fruit. Record each color on the fruit on a separate grid of squares. The banana may have brown, black, yellow, green, white. Have students do with other fruits, pineapple, apple, and others with a variety of colors. Have the students display their data. Count the number of colors for each. Order them from most colors to least. Least to most. Ask the students if a banana is really yellow? Why or why not? Same for others. Tell color is one property that is used to describe objects.

Show students a selection of different kinds of paper. Have them sort and classify them. Ask them to share how they sorted and write the descriptions they have on chart paper. Count sequence…

Show the students a variety of writing instruments. Ask them to sort them…

Have them use the writing instruments to write on the different kinds of paper.

Have them Pick one kind of paper and use any of the writing instruments to draw a picture of one of the fruits. Have them include all the colors they observed in their fruit.

Have them share their drawings and put them in groups.

Discuss that scientists sort, classify, objects in many ways by the properties that they observe. Ask them how they were scientists today.

Paper related activities

Concepts and Generalizations:


Vocabulary for Paper Activities

absorb, alternate, apart, attach, base, bend, bottom, cardboard, change, collage, color, construct, construction paper, corrugated, crease, different, drop, dry, dull, edge, facial tissue, fasten, fiber, flap, flat, fold, form, hinge, layer, mold, newsprint, outline, paper towel, pattern, recycle, resist, roll, rough, same, screen, seam, shape, shiny , side, slick, slit, smooth, solid and dotted lines, stiff, strip, striped, strong, submerge, oak-tag, tear, texture, thick, thickness, thin, together, top, trace, water, waxed paper, weave, wet, wheat paste.

Fasteners activities

What are fasteners? ties, buttons, zippers, buckles, Velcro, bobby pins, barrettes, ribbons, pins, clasps, jewelry, staples, paper clips, glue, rubber bands, tacks, nails, screws, paper fasteners, yarn, thread, doorknobs, latches, magnets, picture hooks, flannel boards, hinges, padlocks, cement, keystones, rivets, seat belts, gravity

Classification heaven

Take a fastener walk and identify some.

Construction related activities

Sand related activities

Air related activities

Senses related activities

Nature related activities

Dirt related activities

Music related activities

Match sounds, piano, beat, voice, see sound activities...

Animal related activities

Store related activities

Collect different containers from a grocery store and have the students classify them in several different ways. Then visit a grocery store and make a map of the way that the store managers have organized the different products. Visit other stores and find how they classify their inventory.

Space related activities

Light related activities

Plant related activities

Water related activities

Tool related activities


Dr. Robert Sweetland's notes