Elementary school – a time when kids are just beginning to understand the amazing world of the sciences. Easy to understand experiments which are based on physical phenomena are always the way to go.
(1) Horticultural experiments. The classic example of the lima bean isn’t that exciting – so why not shake things up a bit? Pick three plants, and compare their rates of growth, measuring time and height and taking detailed notes. Make sure all plants need the same amount of sun, so you can put them in the same place, and use the same soil, amount of water, and frequency of water as controls.
(2) Local weather patterns. Studying local weather patterns is easy, but always fun for kids.
– A rain gauge will enable you to see how much it has rained after a storm.
– An outdoor thermometer will allow you to check the day’s highs and lows.
– To identify clouds, get a book or a chart of different clouds and take it to where you’ll be observing to use as a visual reference; also take a mirror. Lay the mirror flat and look at clouds by looking into the mirror: it’s much easier to observe that way.
– Finally, to make a “hailometer,” take a piece of aluminum foil, some tape, and an unused bucket; by taping the aluminum foil inside the bucket, you’ll be able to record the force of the hail. (Here’s a quick tutorial.)
By observing rain, temperature, cloud, and hail phenomena over the period of a month or two, it’s easy for kids to provide a comprehensive weather report for their home. Illustrations are a plus!
(3) Physical properties. Density experiments are easy to conduct, and lots of fun! All you’ll need is a graduated cyclinder, pieces of lead, steel, aluminum, wood, and plastic of the same volume, and some water! Although the same volume of water will always be displaced, you’ll be able to figure out the density of materials in relation to water by seeing if they sink or swim.
(4) Statistics. Get a few bags of M&Ms. For each bag, count the number of M&Ms total. Then count the number of M&Ms in each color in each bag. Figure out the overall percent of the M&Ms in each color, and compare this with the percent of M&Ms in each color in each bag. Then eat! This will, of course, work with any multicolored candy.
Of course, these ideas are only a jumping-off point. Any specific scientific interest that a kid has is always the best place to start – and even if it’s too difficult to design an experiment for right now, it may be just right in a few years.