Home Activities for Helping Your Child Learn Science: Preschool and Up (page 4)

— U.S. Department of Education
Updated on Feb 4, 2010


Grades 3 and up

Photosynthesis means to "put together using light." Plants use sunlight to turn carbon dioxide from the air and water into food. When the plant gets enough food, it produces a simple sugar, which it uses immediately or stores in a converted form of starch. We don't know exactly how this happens. Butwe do know that chlorophyll, the green substance in plants, helps it to occur.

A few seeds and household plants can teach children about cause and effect and change.

What You Need
  • Household plants
  • Plant fertilizer
  • Paper
  • Safety scissors
  • A magnifying glass
  • Seeds
  • Permanent markers: green, red, blue, black
  • Paper towels
  • Water
  • Sandwich bags (without zip locks)
What to Do
  • With your child, take two clippings from one houseplant. Have him put one clipping in a glass of water and the other clipping in a glass without water. Tell him to check each day to observe and record how long the one without water can survive.

  • Have your child water all of the plants for several weeks. In addition, have him choose one or two of the plants to fertilize during this time. Have him label the plants to be fertilized. Tell him to record the following in his science journal:

    • Did any of the plants start to droop?
    • Did any of the plants have yellow leaves that fell off?
    • Did any of the plants grow toward the light?
  • Next, have your child observe what happens when a plant (or part of plant) doesn't get any light. Help him to do the following:

    • Cut out three pieces of paper, each about 2 inches x 2 inches in size.
    • Clip the pieces to different leaves of a plant, preferably one that has large leaves.
    • Leave one piece of paper on a leaf for one day, a second for two days and a third for a week.
    Ask your child to record how long it takes for the plant to react and how long it takes for the plant to return to normal once the paper is removed.
  • To show your child how seeds germinate, have him divide some seeds of the same kind into four equal batches. Tell him to spread each batch of seeds on a wet paper towel folded into quarters, and then put each batch into a separate sandwich bag. Give him the markers and tell him to color one bag red, one green, one yellow and one black. Have him put the bags in the sun for a week. Tell him to check each day to make sure the paper towels are still wet.

    After a week, have him examine the bags. Ask him which color light was the best for seed germination.

    Ask your child to explore what other things can make seeds germinate faster. Have him, for example, put a little soapy water on one batch of seeds and clear water on another.


Grades 4 and 5

When certain liquids and gases cool and lose water, crystals are formed. Crystals are made up of molecules that fit neatly together in an orderly package. All crystals of the same material have the same shape, regardless of their size.

A crystal is a special kind of solid. Growing crystals introduces children to change and variation.

What You Need
  • A magnifying glass
  • Table salt
  • Epsom salt
  • Honey container
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Paper cut into circles
  • Safety scissors
  • Pencil
What to Do
  • Help your child to use a magnifying glass to look for crystals. Inspect the table salt, Epsom salt and honey container (particularly if it has been open for awhile). Ask your child to draw pictures in her journal of what she observes. Do all of the crystals look the same? If not, how are they different?

  • Have your child try dissolving salt crystals and forming new ones. Help her to do the following:

    • Dissolve 1 teaspoon of salt in 1 cup of water.
    • Heat the mixture over low heat to evaporate the water. < !!! >
    What's left? What shape are these crystals?


  • Snowflakes are made of ice crystals. They're beautiful, but hard to see clearly. Making paper snowflakes will give your child an idea of what snowflakes look like. Have her:

    • Take a circle of paper (use thin paper) and fold it in half.
    • Fan-fold it.
    • Make cuts along all the edges.
    • Unfold them.

Let 'Em Make Cake!

All ages

Here are some chemical reactions that occur as a cake bakes: — Heat helps baking powder produce tiny bubbles of gas, which makes the cake light and fluffy ( leavening). — Heat causes protein from the egg to change and make the cake firm. — Oil keeps the heat from drying out the cake.

Making cakes is an enjoyable way to help children of all ages learn about chemical reactions and change.

What You Need
  • 3 small bowls
  • Several sheets of aluminum foil
  • Pie pan
  • Cooking oil
  • Measuring spoons
  • Ingredients for one cake: (You'll need to measure and mix this set of ingredients four times—with the exceptions that are given below.)
    • 6 tablespoons flour
    • 3 tablespoons sugar
    • 1 pinch of salt
    • 2 or 3 pinches of baking powder
    • 2 tablespoons milk
    • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
    • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
    • Part of an egg (Break egg into a cup; beat until mixed. Use 1/3 of it. Save the rest for 2 of the other cakes.) < !!! >
What to Do
  • With your child do the following:

    • Wrap several sheets of aluminum foil around the outside of a small bowl to form a mold.
    • Remove your foil "pan" and put it in a pie pan for support.
    • Oil the "inside" of the foil pan with cooking oil so the cake doesn't stick.
    • Turn the oven on to 350 degrees.
    • Mix all of the dry ingredients together.
    • Add the wet ones (only use 1/3 of the egg; save the rest for later use).
    • Stir the ingredients until smooth and all the same color.
    • Pour batter into the "pan."
    • Bake for 15 minutes.
  • Help your child to make three more cakes, but tell him to do the following:

    • Leave the oil out of one.
    • Leave the egg out of another.
    • Leave the baking powder out of the third.
  • After baking, have him cut each cake in half and look inside.

    • Do the cakes look different from each other?
    • Do they taste different from each other?
  • Tell your child to write about, or draw pictures of, what he observes.

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