Backyard Science

Well, I decided to submit a somewhat different article with the application I wrote about a couple of days ago. There were several positions available and after looking them over again it seemed wiser to go with one that focuses on education since that is the area of my degree and my professional experience. So, still following the list format they seem to favor, I retooled “Beat the Heat” into “Backyard Science”.  (The first two ideas are from the previous article but the rest are different so, keep reading!)

Children are naturally curious about their environment as we can tell when we see even young babies observe, touch, taste and explore. As those babies grow, parents often wonder what they can do to nurture this natural curiosity in the world and how things work. Here are a few simple ideas you can do right in your own backyard! To help ensure your child is getting the most out of these activities be sure to guide the discussion through the use of questions rather than relying solely on explanation.

1. Experiment with erosion: Pick a corner of the yard where the kids can move a little earth. Grab a garden hose or pail of water and observe the various ways water affects the soil. Use small boats, cars or other toys to experiment with how the water will move not just soil, but also objects. Bring in rocks, twigs and leaves to build a dam and a small pool for the boats.

2. Sink or float: Fill a small bucket or pail with water and try to predict if assorted items will sink or float when dropped in the water. Encourage the kids to think about why certain objects float and others don’t.

3. Observe bugs: Get up close and personal with (non-stinging) bugs. If you have a magnifying glass, even better! As you notice differences in the way assorted bugs look and move ask your child how these variations help the bugs survive. Why is flight important for some but not others? How might large eyes be helpful? Why do some bugs always travel in large groups and it seems others are usually alone? Why might those stinging bugs you’re so carefully avoiding have stingers?

4. Shadow play: Use sidewalk chalk to trace your child’s shadow at various times throughout the day, each time noting the sun’s position in the sky. Discuss why the shadow changes and try to predict how it will change before tracing it again.

5. Gather and sort rocks: This is another great opportunity to pull out that magnifying glass! Discuss the qualities of different rocks and divide them into groups according to those qualities. Try to imagine how these different types of rock might have formed.

6. Track the weather: With younger children this might be as simple as discussing each day what clothes, shelter and objects people and animals will need based on that days weather.  With older kids you can create a backyard weather station with a thermometer, rain gauge and weather vane which you can use to chart changes in the weather. Be sure to look up and note changes in the sky (color, cloud activity, etc.) and try to predict some aspects of weather based on these observations.

7. Star gazing: The night sky is usually fascinating to kids of all ages. Look for constellations, observe the phases of the moon or stay up late for a meteor shower.

8. Gardening: Even if you don’t have a lot of space a small container garden is a great way for kids to make connections between themselves and the earth. They’ll learn what plants need in order to grow as well as different uses for plants. And they’ll have a great time doing it! If you’re feeling really ambitious you can plant foods that come from various parts of the plant. (Tomatoes are fruit, potatoes are roots, broccoli is a flower, etc.) For a practical, earth friendly element you can also add composting to your gardening experience.

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