Science in Early Years
Science at Foundation Stage is covered in the ‘Understanding the World’ area of the EYFS Curriculum. It is introduced indirectly through activities that encourage every child to explore, problem solve, observe, predict, think, make decisions and talk about the world around them.
During their first years at school our children will explore creatures, people, plants and objects in their natural environments. They will observe and manipulate objects and materials to identify differences and similarities. They will also learn to use their senses, feeling dough or listening to sounds in the environment, such as sirens or farm animals. They will make observations of animals and plants and explain why some things occur and talk about changes. Children will be encouraged to ask questions about why things happen and how things work. They might do activities such as increasing the incline of a slope to observe how fast a vehicle travels, or opening a mechanical toy to see how it works. Children will also be asked questions about what they think will happen to help them communicate, plan, investigate, record and evaluate findings.
Early Learning Goal – Understanding the world
From guidance from Development Matters, exemplification materials for ELG 14 ‘The World’ and exceeding statements.
- Comments and asks questions about aspects of their familiar world such as the place where they live or the natural world.
- Can talk about some of the things they have observed such as plants, animals, natural and found objects.
- Talks about why things happen and how things work.
- Developing an understanding of growth, decay and changes over time.
- Shows care and concern for living things and the environment.
- Looks closely at similarities, differences, patterns and change.
Early Learning Goal:
Children know about similarities and differences in relation to places, objects, materials and living things. They talk about the features of their own immediate environment and how environments might vary from one another. They make observations of animals and plants and explain why some things occur, and talk about changes.
In the EYFS children use a range of ‘Characteristics of Effective Learning’ in their independent learning. These can be seen as complementing ‘Working Scientifically’.
- Playing and exploring – engagement
Finding out and exploring; playing with what they know; being willing to ‘have a go’
- Active learning – motivation
Being involved and concentrating; keeping trying; enjoying achieving what they set out to do
- Creating and thinking critically – thinking
Having their own ideas; making links; choosing ways to do things
In continuous provision:
These are the activities that are available linked to children’s needs:
Water tray (floating, sinking, absorbency of materials)
Sand tray/pit (consistency of materials, role play)
Bug hunts (mats/logs to turn over, wild flowers and long grass)
Construction area (junk modelling, different types of materials)
Growing area (seeds, plants, minibeasts)
Mud kitchen (consistency of materials, scented herbs, stones, minibeasts)
Sound (musical instruments and sound)
Small world (different animals, props, dolls’ house)
Playdough area (birthday props/cake decorations to encourage talk about changing and growing)
Each week we set up different provision for children to access independently during exploring time. These are often based on the weekly text to provide a hook.
At other times they may be linked to the topic eg dinosaurs: torches, colour paddles and dinosaurs. Children experimented with them to see how they could make a dinosaurs’ shadow change, and they explore shining the torch through the colour paddle to change the dinosaur’s colour.
Small world play with props encourages children to talk about where animals live, how to look after them and different environments. Using dolls’ house characters and furniture may give children opportunities to talk about families and changes.
Key to this provision is the adults’ responses and questioning, encouraging children to give explanations about what is happening.
Sometimes there may be a challenge eg Bear hunt – can you make a new home for the bear? Children used different materials and construction kits to build homes.
Teacher led inputs
These include either investigations to see changes happening over time or whole class sessions.
Examples of changes over time include planting beans (linked to Jack and the beanstalk), putting gummy bears in water and watching them dissolve/change, and trying to rescue animals trapped in ice balloons/cubes.
Whole class/group sessions include objects and powerpoints/IWB slides. These might help with modelling correct language eg materials, sorting items eg how musical instruments make sound, grouping animals. A fun activity is pictures or small world animals and playing odd one out or make a link – these can also be open ended eg lion, cheetah, leopard, ladybird; triceratops and rhino; velociraptor and cheetah; elephant and Apatosaurus.
These are unplanned and arise from children’s comments and observations eg spotting a rainbow, having a ladybird land on them, snow!!!
All of the above are developed through children’s talk and adults’ interactions with them.
Science at home
Children are naturally drawn to science-based activities. Added to the fact that they appeal to their innate curiosity and desire to make sense of the world, the best science activities for young children are often hands-on (and sometimes messy) and produce exciting (and sometimes unexpected) results. What’s not to like?
It’s ideal to tap into this natural enthusiasm as early on as possible by including science activities at home. Helping to establish a love of science at a young age is beneficial in many ways:
• It fosters the desire to explore and experiment
• It helps develop analytical and problem-solving skills
• It nurtures an understanding of cause and effect, trial and error
• It helps develop an understanding of the world
• It supports the development of communication and collaboration skills
• It expands vocabulary
Early Years Science Experiment Ideas:
1. Sink or float?
This is a classic science activity that explores the principle of buoyancy and can be done with even very young children. Get a large container (eg a bowl or plastic box), fill it with water, and with the children collect a range of objects from around the nursery. The children then take it in turns to drop an object into the water – after guessing whether it will sink or float.
2. Will it dissolve?
This activity teaches children about solubility, specifically whether a given substance will dissolve in water. You’ll need several small, transparent water containers (e.g. plastic or glass cups) and a range of substances to test (e.g. sugar, oil, salt, food colouring, rice, flour, vitamin tablets). Before dropping each substance into a cup ask the children to guess whether it will dissolve or not.
3. How do plants grow
This is more of an ongoing science activity, but if you choose quick-growing seeds the children won’t have to wait too long before they start seeing results. Cress is the classic quick-growing plant (and lends itself to creative uses, eg as hair for a monster), but how about trying sunflowers (good for measuring growth against a wall) or pumpkins (to tie in with seasonal activities).
4. Crazy cornflour slime
This activity is a bit messy but really fun and hands-on; children love exploring the strange properties of this cross between a liquid and a solid. For best results use a large shallow container that you can put on the floor, like a sand/water tray. Mix together cornflour and water until you have a slime consistency. Try punching the slime – it instantly turns solid. Roll some slime into a ball in your hand and then stop – it turns back into a liquid.
5. Magic dancing milk
For this activity – an engaging introduction to chemical reactions – you’ll need a shallow dish, full-fat milk, food colouring, cotton buds and washing up liquid. Pour some milk into the dish, add some drops of food colouring, then dab with a cotton bud dipped in washing up liquid. Use a few different colours at the same time for maximum impact, and try dabbing in different places.
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