Sciences For The Montessori
Just like geography and history, during the preschool years you don’t need to stick to a strict curriculum and can address these subjects with a variety of activities depending on your child’s interests. Allow your children to learn through their physical experience of the world, offering them interesting experiences which will intrigue them and arouse their curiosity. Pay attention while you work on sensory and practical life activities, because they offer numerous opportunities to discuss science topics: for example, something as simple as taking a bath can become a physics lesson if we start to observe that some toys float and others sink, or we look at what happens to the water level when someone gets into the bathtub.
Here I’d like to present you with some activities that you can use as an inspiration and a point of departure to create your own. Just observe your child closely and you will be able to find many more ideas during your day-to-day life. As always when using the Montessori Method, try to follow the child and pay attention to his preferences and abilities, and adapt the working materials to his interests and the things you already have at home.
The human body
The human body is a wonderful starting point to explore natural science. Children are fascinated by how our body works. What happens to food after we eat it? Why do we get a runny nose when we have a cold? Why do we see blood when we scratch our knee?
Puzzle of the human body.
The five senses
Day after day, we experience what happens when we turn off the light and cannot see anything; we feel the warmth of the milk through the cup; we smell a loaf of bread raising inside the oven… our senses help us to understand the world in which we live, and create the basis of all scientific exploration. Montessori activities, especially sensory ones, are particularly designed to stimulate children’s five senses and should be the building blocks of the preschool stage.
In order to start talking to your child about our bones, try to feel your knuckles, elbows and knees. Search for hard spots and ask him what they could be. Maybe find an empty sock and compare it to a sock which has a small bottle inside. Which one can stand on its own? Why do you think that is? What do you think would happen to us if we had no bones?
Create a fun activity by drawing and cutting a big human skeleton out of cardstock. Then try to put it together as if it were a puzzle. Attempt to feel your own bones under the skin and compare them to those of your model.
Our main organs, made from play dough.
Explore the internal organs of the human body with plastic models, or recreate them in a playful way with play dough or cardboard.
Show the functioning of the lungs comparing it to that of a balloon that inflates and deflates each time you blow inside; find a water pump and explain how our heart pumps blood to every cell of our body, etc.
Most of us planted lentils or chia seed pets during our school years: at least I did, and remember it fondly.
You will need an empty cup or jar (of yogurt, for example), some cotton balls and a handful lentils.
Make the cotton damp (but not extremely wet) and just put the lentils on top of it. It is important to remember to check them out every day and add a few drops of water if it’s looking dry. Put the container on your child’s table so he won’t forget to water it.
After three or four days the seeds should start to germinate and you will see the first sprouts.
Taking care of plants
If you have some space in your garden or even on the balcony (a few square meters will be enough) you can plant a small home vegetable garden with a few low maintenance edible plants and herbs. Depending on the season of the year and the plant that you choose you can start by planting your own seeds in seedbeds indoors or buy small seedlings in a nursery. The majority of species need to be planted at the end of winter, but you can start your garden in spring or early summer too.
Some species you can try to plant: (check for autochthonous plants from your area too, and please note that the months mentioned here relate to the Northern Hemisphere’s temperate climates):
Strawberries: strawberries are planted at the beginning of the spring, approximately in February, depending on the species. They need soil very rich in nutrients in order to grow: if you are going to plant them directly in your garden you might need to get some appropriate fertilizer first. You can get climbing and hanging varieties, which require little care and minimum space (they can even be planted in containers) and offer children the wonderful reward of collecting their own strawberries during the season.
Cherry tomatoes: they are small but need plenty of sunlight (at least 5-6 hours per day). There are many climbing varieties which will need garden stakes to climb on.
Chilli peppers: many of them can be grown in a pot, and just like tomatoes they need lots of sun and water.
Basil: its aromatic leaves can be used in salads and soups. It is quite easy to come by, sometimes you can even find it in grocery shops.
Starting your garden from seeds: if you choose to buy seeds you can start by planting them in empty yogurt containers. Don’t forget to make a hole in the bottom (i.e. with a fork) to avoid waterlogging. Water them on a daily basis or whenever they don’t look as moist as they should and keep them in a relatively warm place until they germinate. Once the seedlings get their first true leaves (usually from the third leaf on) and reach 10-15 cm in height (around 5 inches) you will be able to transplant them to larger pots or to the ground.
Parts of a plant
While you watch your seeds grow you can learn the names of the parts of a plant, and try to find them in other plants from your surroundings too. Take a field trip to a nearby park or forest and play with three-part cards featuring the parts of a plant.
Look around you and classify what you find in our environment between living and inert beings.
- Examples of living beings: plants, trees, cats, dogs, humans, flies, worms, snails…
- Examples of inert things: lampposts, stones, houses, shoes…
Water and land creatures
Try an animal classifying activity with flashcards or three-part cards while you are working on subjects such as the oceans, rainforests and forests, etc. Sort animals according to their habitats: for example, water and land animals, or water, land and air animals, or ocean vs forest animals, etc.
Put your cards in a basket and ask your child to sort the animal pictures in several groups, for example:
- Water animals: shark, jellyfish, seahorse, whale, eel, clownfish …
- Land animals: dog, lion, elephant, giraffe, eagle…
Sorting land and water animals.
Using measuring instruments
Measuring instruments enable us to quantify the results of our science experiments. Explain to your child that there are many things that we can measure, and for that reason, people have invented units of measure. Let’s have a look at some related activities.
We can measure time in units such as seconds, minutes, hours, days, months… and for that purpose, we use tools such as stopwatches, clocks or calendars.
Use a stopwatch to measure how long ordinary activities take, and record the results in a table. Which one lasts longer?
- How long does it take for a ball to roll from one end of the room to the other?
- How long is our favourite song?
- How long does it take your father to peel an apple?
Explain to your child which units we use to measure the length of things. Depending on where you live this will be meters, centimetres, millimetres… or inches, feet, etc.
Show the child how long one meter (yard) is and try to find other objects of a similar length at home.
Create a length-measuring material:
To perform this activity, we will place several strips of paper in a variety of lengths: 3 cm (or inches), 4 cm, 5 cm, etc. Write down their length on the reverse (control of error).
Measuring paper strips.
- Give a ruler to the child and show him how to use it.
- Record the length of each strip on a list and then turn them around to check whether you did the measuring activity correctly.
This activity can be done by measuring objects instead of strips of paper. In this case, it is advisable to search for objects whose length is a round number. Otherwise, you will have to explain to your child how to measure with decimals (using centimetres and millimetres).
Another interesting activity is to measure the height of your children on a wall chart and compare them: who is taller? Who is shorter?
Being able to measure volumes is a very useful skill, especially while cooking. It’s easy to do it if you have a graduated pitcher, with which you will be able to show the child, for example, what 100 ml (or 3 fluid ounces) looks like.
Let’s find out how many millilitres of water this is.
Just like measuring volumes, being able to measure the weight of substances is of great interest in real life, especially while cooking.
Try to find a recipe with the ingredients listed in ounces or milligrams (depending on whether you use metric or imperial measurements).
Looking at the recipe, ask the child to measure the ingredients for you using a kitchen scale.
The states of matter
Search for objects which are solid, liquid and gaseous:
Solid: a table, a toy, an apple…
Liquid: water, juice, milk…
Gas: explain children that the air we breathe is a gas, but it’s invisible and that’s why most of the time we can’t see it. You show them with a balloon: ask them to inflate it and then touch it: “See? Now it’s full of air”. Then let the air out and feel it on your hand as it comes out: “Can you feel the air on your hand? You can’t see it, but you can feel it. Air is made out of gases”.
When the weather is cold you will be able to show children how breath comes out of their mouths as a white fog and explain this is what gases looks like.
Air is invisible, but we can feel it on our skin when we deflate a balloon.
Activity to compare the states of matter:
Search for three glass jars. Put a solid object in the first one, a liquid substance in the second one and leave the third one empty (explain it is full of air). You can use the three states of water for this activity, like in the picture below:
Changes of state
You can do this just with water: get some ice cubes and ask the child whether they are a solid, a liquid or a gas.
Afterwards, let them melt (you can make this process faster by adding salt or warm water). “Now the water is not solid anymore: it has become a liquid”.
Finally, you can put some ice cubes in a pot on the stove and watch them from a safe distance until they start to boil and become a gas*. “Now the water has become a gas”.
*Please be careful with this part of the experiment and remember it should be performed only by an adult person. Children must watch from a safe place, far away from the fire and the hot pots. In case of doubt just skip this last step!