Simple science lessons are all around us during the summer. Prevent summer brain drain in your kids with these mini science experiments and activities for children of all ages. Expand their knowledge of meteorology, zoology, botany, chemistry, and more without any special equipment or instructions. Check out even more backyard science experiments, plus our favorite science and math toys and mobile apps.
Have some fun in the sun with the physics of shadows. Ask your young child to look at her shadow at different times of day to show her the connection between the sun's position in the sky and the length of her shadow. Use chalk on a sidewalk or a stick in the sand to trace her shadow so she can see how it shrinks and grows with time. Have your older child measure and chart her shadow and explain when it is shortest and why.
Gather and Sort Rocks
Boost your child's geology smarts by starting a rock collection and looking closely at how rocks differ. Younger children can learn about classifying rocks by sorting them into groups — large or small, smooth or jagged, solid or speckled, and so on. Older children can go a step further and talk about what type of rock each one is and hypothesize how it was formed.
Most kids are natural entomologists — people who study insects. Foster their curiosity during the buggy summer by leaving something sweet outside, like a slice of fruit with a drop of honey on it, and seeing what types of insects it attracts. Little kids can observe the bugs (the ones that don't sting) with a magnifying glass and describe what they see. Older children can talk about insect classifications and the benefits of some bugs.
Look up! Clear summer nights are ideal for quick astronomy lessons with your kids. See if your younger child can spot the North Star in the sky, and ask your older child to identify constellations and the phase of the moon. When you're at the beach, talk about how the moon affects tides in the ocean.
Track the Weather
Summer is the season of heat waves and thunderstorms. Encourage your child to explore meteorology by keeping a weather calendar to describe whether it was hot or cool, humid or dry, or clear or stormy each day. Your younger child can learn to read a thermometer. Your older child can try to predict storms based on the types of clouds he sees, and he can decode weather maps in the newspaper. He can also track and discuss weather phenomena affecting other regions of the country, such as tornados and hurricanes.
Plant different colors and types of flowers with your kids and ask them to watch and see which ones attract butterflies. Talk with your younger child about the metamorphosis of monarch butterflies, and ask your older child to explain butterfly metamorphosis to you since she has learned it in school.
Grow and Study Veggies
A vegetable garden is full of botany lessons for kids. Plant a family garden this summer and talk with your kids about what plants need in order to grow. Have your older child point out examples of the plant terminology he knows. Turn making a salad into a science activity — even if you buy your veggies instead of growing your own. Have kids identify whether the ingredients are a fruit (tomato), a root (carrot), a legume (peapod), or a flower (broccoli). Consider doing some Earth-friendly composting as a practical backyard science lesson.
Play with Liquids
Sometimes it's okay to play with your food! Let your young chemist mess around with measuring and mixing liquids, like lemonade, juice, and iced tea. Kids of all ages can learn about liquid measurement using a measuring cup or a turkey baster and observe the colors of the mixtures. Older kids can go a step further and talk about ratios (two parts iced tea to one part lemonade — yum!) and examples of solutions, suspensions, and colloids, if they have studied those.
Investigate Your Pets
Your furry friends can help provide mini zoology lessons. Ask your child which wild animals are similar to dogs, cats, and other domesticated animals your family has or knows. Discuss how animals have evolved and adapted to their environment. Ask your younger child to describe how a dog looks and acts similar to a wolf. Quiz your older child on what class of animal various pets are (mammal, reptile, amphibian, etc.), how they are born, and what they need to survive.
Waves are all around us, seen and unseen. A summer trip to the beach or to the park is a perfect opportunity to observe waves — in the ocean or in a field of grass blowing the wind. Make waves with your kids by skipping rocks across a pond, and explore the physics of waves — wavelength and frequency — using a jump rope that you and your child shake at different heights and speeds. Ask your older child to name some types of waves you can't see, such as microwaves and radio waves, and what they do.