These incidental science activities ideas were shared by providers and teachers on the Child Care Lounge message board. Great preschool science activities don't have to be planned. Start with the child's interest and go from there!
A good example of incidental learning is when a child finds a bug outside (or sometimes inside!) At that point, you can ask the child how many legs it has, or something similar. Ask them to identify antennea, legs, eyes, color and size. You could also ask them what kind of home it might live in or what it might eat. If you are lucky enough to have books about bugs, you can always bring out a book and help the child identify which bug it is. You could compare and contrast differences in other bugs. Then as a bonus have the child draw the bug.
Our plants in the yard were appearing sickly after a long weekend where we had lots of sunshine and didn't water. I pointed this out to my 4 year old, who was taking a particularly strong interest in our garden. I asked him why the plant wasn't standing straight and tall like it was last week. I reminded him that he wasn't there all weekend to feed it water and that it was really hot and sunny all weekend. I asked him how he feels in the summer on really hot days. He responded that the plant was probably thirsty and needed some water. I told him that was great thinking and gave him a watering can to water the plant. He was very excited that it only took until the next day for the plant to be standing tall again. The next day the child commented on how thirsty that plant must have been!
Taking a slow walk with the children after a spring rain. They were on the lookout for worms on the sidewalks and for puddles to splash in. Some even let the rain from the overfull gutters drip on their heads. What a great time we had discussing weather.
Another great example is visiting a neighborhood construction site. The kids were able to sit on the curb and observe the workers. Many topics were discussed such as tools that are being used, measuring, the use of hand tools and electric tools, and the different building materials that they were using. After sitting for a while the kids were able to bring home blocks of wood for their afternoon art project. I was also able to retrieve a small bucket of saw dust that I will be using in one of our sensory bins next week.
One day as the children and I were planting flowers in our flower garden we dug up several earthworms. The children enjoyed watching the earthworms slide across their hands so I asked them questions such as, "How do you think the earthworms move through the dirt?" and "I wonder how the earthworms help the plants." We observed the earthworms that day, wrote in our journals about them, and got books from the Library. This started a whole earthworm farm project. We then created many planned activities based off of this one incidental learning experience.
While on our walk to the park one day, our toddlers were picking up pine cones. We picked some up around the trees. I told the children to look at where they were finding the pinecones - around the base of the tree. We brought back the pine cones and put them on our science/nature table where we looked at them under our magnifying glasses. We felt them, sorted them, shook them, smelled them (and of course there's always at least one that will lick one - yuck). Within the next week or so, several children brought more in as they picked them up on their way to our center.
An example of incidental learning that I just used in my classroom was during circle time, we had a spider come down from the ceiling on it's web. The children begin to scream! After calming everyone down, I ran to our science center to get our magnifying bug container and I gently put the spider in the container. The children had a chance to view a spider up front, ask questions about the spider, and we talked about the difference between insects and spiders. Because of their curiosity, it took us almost an hour to finish talking about the spider. After the lesson, we then went outside as a class to release our spider, not before naming him "Hoppy"!
We have a pet toad in our classroom and the children know that it has dry bumpy skin and that the toad likes to burrow in the sand. One day when we were going out to the playground one of the children spotted a tree frog clinging to the side of the school. We stopped and talked about how the tree frog was different than the toad in our classroom. I took some pictures and I had them printed when we came back in. Many of the kids drew pictures of the frog and of the toad (Well, that's what they were supposed to be) But they drew bumps on their toads and the frogs had smooth skin. The kids talked about how the frog was small and that our toad was bigger.