Let's Experiment!

Boost critical thinking skills by putting a fun, scientific spin on daily routines.
By Mary Rivkin, PhD




Children love learning new things, and they especially love to figure out how the world works. This is often done through observation and trial-and-error. For example, what happens if I mix two colors of paint? Why does the grass feel wet in the morning? You can make familiar, everyday experiences fresh by looking at the world around you from a different perspective.
Bringing what you've learned outside indoors is a great place to start. You can help your child organize items, such as rocks, that he has gathered. Grouping his treasures into different categories will help him think about the concepts of similarity and difference. Many children sort objects spontaneously by color and size. You can suggest other methods of sorting, such as grouping rocks that have sparkles and those that are smooth. Some children may want to count their rocks. Organizing objects is an excellent way for children to understand categorization.
The following activities will put a new science spin on your daily routines:

  • Kitchen science. Experiment with food items whose preparation can be reversed, such as gelatin desserts, Popsicles, and ice cubes (make, melt, reharden). Or work with foods whose preparation cannot be reversed, such as toast, fried eggs, chocolate milk, and baked potatoes.
  • Bathtub science. Try to make the bath toys sink. Add some other objects and see if they sink or float. Hairbrush? Toothbrush? Several kinds of bar soap? Washcloths? Add some corks and try to keep them from floating. Scrub the tub afterward, noting how rough powder scratches off the dirt on the tub.
  • Bedtime science. Shine a flashlight on the mirror and see where the light bounces. Get under the covers and try to see things with the light off. Make it really dark, and talk about not seeing anything and how you know about colors only with the light on. Take turns holding the flashlight and making shadows on the wall. A shadow is where light is blocked; even though it seems alive, a shadow is just blocked light.
  • Science games. Make ramps to test which cars race down them the fastest. Compare wheels and sizes. Keep records of the fastest cars. Make a balance beam for children to navigate, and talk about balance and how you keep it. Provide cardboard tubes and tape for children to make tunnels to roll balls through. Changing angles changes the speed. Encourage observation and conversation.
  • Play science. Set up a clinic with stethoscopes, bandages, a homemade eye chart, pillows, folders and paper, a height chart, and a scale. Note that doctors and nurses are scientists, because they observe people and try to fix what's wrong. Set up a lab with bottles, measuring spoons, salt, sugar, and flour. Provide aprons and goggles.

By encouraging your child to observe his surroundings, ask questions, and experiment with what he knows, you're helping him build his critical-thinking skills, which will benefit him for a lifetime.

Sorting and Classifying
Science & Nature Activities
Critical Thinking
Age 5
Age 4
Age 3
Early Science
Shapes and Sizes