My neighbors just drove off, heading towards the first day of kindergarten for their daughter. I love to see the excitement on children’s faces as they go to “the big school” for the first time. Middle school and high school teachers hope to see that kind of excitement in their students too! On the NSTA member listserves these teachers are discussing what to do on their first day with the students—how to accomplish some of the necessary tasks like seating charts, addressing safety rules, and setting up homework folders. The suggestions for these upper level teachers range from demonstrations to skits to scavenger hunts to writing about what science is. What science investigations can begin on the first day of an early childhood classroom when there are so many social-emotional learning goals to attend to? Some of the same ideas can be used (at an age appropriate level) to engage young children on their first days at school and to begin an on-going investigation. At the open-to-all NSTA Learning Center online forums, early childhood teachers are talking about science activities they use on the first day of school.
Here are a few more ideas.
Take your children on an outdoor sensory-scavenger walk, around the school yard, to list what they felt—the rough brick wall of the school, the smooth window glass, the wet grass, the gritty sand, and the cold handrail. Take the walk in a “Simon Says” style, with the teacher as Simon, so that not only will the children touch safe objects, they will also all touch the same objects and their experience can later be compared. Tell the class not to touch any trash, mushrooms, or plants that the teacher does not touch. Exploring our senses is part of an inquiry about living things (living things respond to their environment).
Plant seeds of quickly-maturing and heat-resistant crops indoors in cups or a large class pot. It won’t matter very much how many seeds the children plant or how deep they are planted—some are bound to come up! Depending on your location, transplant the seedlings to a school garden later on, when the children are settled into the routine, or put the pot outdoors to get as much sunlight as possible. Make watering the seeds and seedlings one of the classroom jobs for children. Possible fall crops include carrots, beets, broccoli, Swiss chard, kale and other greens. Check on the seed packet and look for a low number of “days-to-maturity”. (The National Gardening Association has tips and you can get detailed information from your state Cooperative Extension Service). Caring for seedlings indoors or outside helps develop a routine while teaching about the needs of living things.
Freeze water in large containers and put these ice blocks into a water table or large tub for exploration into the properties of water. Freeze small (but not too small) toys inside the ice for fun and to give children a reason to persist in wondering about how ice melts. Provide towels to mop up the spills. Physical science explorations into the nature of water and water flow can be a year-long inquiry—from filling the top of a coin with water drops to pouring water or dropping ice down rain gutter ramps to filling tubes and directing the flow.
Pair pictures of local or world-famous buildings with small blocks at a table or larger blocks on the floor to help develop spatial thinking. Spread out the blocks on a number of trays to keep a few children from monopolizing them. Soon children will be asking, “How long?” “How high?” and “How many?”
Trays are also a good way to focus children’s use of space as they work with spinning a variety of tops. This can grow from an individual activity to a group activity as the children begin to compare the motion of the tops and offer tips on how to make tops spin longer. With further exploration, children will begin quantifying pushes and pulls in motion.
Each of these activities can be somewhat independent for the children and provide observational assessment opportunities for you to begin to understand your class. Include writing and drawing materials at every center for children to document their observations and thinking with pictures, writing or dictation to an adult.
Comment below to share your first day science activities or join the discussion at the NSTA Learning Center. Science on the first day engages children in experiences which can lead to exploration in greater depth.