Encouraging Early Scientific Interest

Our early years experts offer four simple ways to encourage your child’s natural scientific development through simple physics.

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Children are constantly experimenting to find out how things work. While it may sometimes look like purposeless, repetitive activities are often very specific scientific observations to understand the workings of the world. 

It is important to encourage children’s natural experimentation with simple machines throughout your home. When you have time, you can help guide the experience.   

One of the basic principles of physics is understanding that there are six simple machines that can make our work easier. Simple machines include a lever, inclined plane, wheel and axle, screw, wedge and pulley. While the names are not particularly important to most young children, chances to experiment with these simple machines are needed in developing an early understanding of physics.

  • Children can experiment with building or using ramps for marble rolls, small car races, or moving water from one place to another.For example:
    - Observing that a ball rolls more quickly down a ramp than it does when it is rolled across the flat floor gives an early understanding of the inclined plane.
    - Fascination with all things with wheels – wheelbarrows, small trucks, tricycles, scooters, etc. – gives children early practice with the advantages of the wheel and axle.
  • Children love to use wheeled vehicles (a wheelbarrow or small dumper truck) to help with the work of moving blocks, soil or other materials. While you are in the garden your toddler can move soil with a toy lorry or move objects from place to place with a child-sized wheelbarrow.
  • Safe plastic workbenches which give children an early opportunity to master the use of tools including hammers (levers), screws and vices (a machine that includes screws) are often favourites of toddlers and their use helps develop valuable manipulative skills.
  • Pulleys help with lifting. With your assistance your child can use or make a small pulley for easier lifting of small buckets of sand, blocks, etc. Small pulleys can be purchased at the DIY shop or can be made from a coat hanger and string.

There are many games that can help with this children’s experimentation, from build your own Marble Run games for children from 3 years upwards (it’s important to ensure any set is appropriate for your child’s age) to more complex versions such as Gravitrax and K’nex which can engage even significantly older children. For more inspiration The Science Museum shop has a great range of science-based activities and experiments for children of all ages.

While some of us may not consider science to be our strongest subject, by noticing children’s interests in how things work and building upon these to nurture inquisitive scientists, the joy of scientific discovery can be easily shared.