1. Exploration Station

What you need: Magnets of different sizes; magnetic and nonmagnetic objects (paper clips, toy cars, coins); magnifying glasses; natural objects (seeds, shells, leaves); water and sand; containers

What to Do: Designate a table in your classroom the “Exploration Station.” Rotate the supplies to encourage experimentation. Instead of directing, let kids explore freely. They will soon discover, for instance, which objects are magnetic and how magnets can be used to move objects. Children playing with sand, water, and containers of different sizes learn about volume and test self-generated predictions. (“I can pack more wet sand in a cup than dry sand.”) Ask “What if?” questions to prompt curiosity. Have paper, pencils, crayons, and markers nearby, and encourage children to draw their observations.

2. Habitat Lookout

What you need: Outside area, magnifying glasses, binoculars, journals, crayons

What to do: Assign groups areas to observe. Think big — have some students observe the tree line, while others concentrate on a patch of ground. (You can rope off the habitat area by inserting sticks in the ground and framing it with yarn.) Some students should investigate sunny areas, while others observe shaded spots. Hand out supplies: Students observing the tree line should get binoculars, and those homing in on the ground might want magnifying glasses. Tell students to observe closely for five minutes. Ask them to note any plants, animals, or insects. Then have them sketch their findings.

Back in the classroom, compare and contrast the drawings. What creatures did your students find on the ground? How did they differ from those in the trees? Why, for instance, does a worm live in the ground? Why are some bugs more prevalent in shady areas?

3. Sort-and-Classify Walk

What you need: Bags or backpacks for collecting

What to do: Take students outside for a nature walk. (If you have a nature preserve near your school, all the better!) Tell children that you will be gathering natural materials for a project. Allow them to pick up and collect sticks, leaves, rocks, and other natural objects.

After students have collected their treasures, encourage them to sort their collections. First, have them sort by size, then by color. They may also want to sort by shape or use. Let each child decide on a final sort, then display the collections in your classroom.

4. Sink or Float?

What you need: Tub of water, balls of clay, small plastic blocks, a toy boat

What to do: Show students the supplies. Ask them if clay can float. (Most students will say that it can’t.) Let the children try to float the clay. Then show them the toy boat. Place it on the water. When the students notice it floating, ask them to try the clay again. Give them time; some students will likely figure out how to shape the clay ball into a replica of a boat. If not, encourage them to observe the shape of the boat and re-create it in clay. After the kids have had a chance to play, ask them why the clay boats float better than the clay balls.

Next, hold up a block. Ask students if a block floats, then let them try floating it. Ask if anyone can figure out how to make the block float. (Remind them of their clay boats!)

5. Marble Track

What you need: Foam-pipe insulation, marbles of different sizes, duct tape, blocks

What to do: Share with your students that they’re going to build marble tracks. Slit the pipe insulation down the side, lengthwise (it should already be slit along one side). Separate the two halves; you should have two long pieces that look like R tracks. Drop a marble into the groove, raise one end, and show students how the marble runs along the track.

Separate students into groups and hand out lengths of insulation and marbles. Encourage kids to use the pieces to build “roller coasters.” Show them how to use duct tape to join pieces of track together to create longer runs.

Roam between the groups. Students will quickly discover that tweaking the angle of the run affects the speed of the marble. Have blocks on hand so that students can raise portions of the track, if they want. You might also want to challenge the students to create a run that will drop the marbles into a bucket, or ask them to make their marble move uphill. Adventurous students may also want to try a loop-de-loop!

Later, discuss the students’ observations. Which marbles ran the fastest? (Heavier or smaller marbles will generally beat lighter, larger marbles.) How did the height of the track affect the marbles’ speeds? What did the students do to get the marble to go uphill?