Sink or Float? A Scientific Inquiry Activity for Toddlers

Sink or Float? A Scientific Inquiry Activity for Toddlers

Hooray – summer is finally here! This is my favorite time of year to go for walks (in the woods or on the beach), read by the pool, fix a quiet family picnic or lie on a blanket in the backyard and cloud-gaze with my granddaughter.

We often think of summer as a time to change pace, relax and rejuvenate – and it is! But, summertime also provides fantastic opportunities for learning. You may remember the three-part series I wrote last summer about the importance of language and literacy activities for a baby’s brain development. It is important to continue speaking and reading with our children over the summer so that the language and literacy parts of their brains continue to grow. Summer also lends itself to learning about science and the outside world. The pool, the playground, even the backyard garden are labs, waiting for young scientists to explore and test scientific theories. The laws of physics, chemistry and biology abound in a child’s outdoor environment.

A child’s innate curiosity draws her to inquire about the world around her very early on. Scientific inquiry begins when a 4-year-old starts asking, “Why?” She is searching for evidence to prove her theories, and who better to ask than you? Rather than just answering the question, you might help set up an investigation for your child to find out on her own. For example, a child experiments with the scientific principle of buoyancy while learning to swim, asking questions like:

  • “What do I need to do in order to float?”
  • “Why do I float sometimes and other times I sink?”
  • “How do floaties or life jackets help me stay afloat?”

This type of scientific inquiry can be fun to test, especially on a hot summer day! Encourage this self-discovery through interactive games, like this “Sink or Float” activity described below:

Sink or Float? A Scientific Inquiry Activity for Toddlers

  1. Help your child fill a bucket with water and gather some miscellaneous items from around the house and yard that will not be harmed by getting wet. 
  2. Ask your little one to predict which items he thinks will float and which ones will sink, by sorting the items into two piles – SINK and FLOAT. Resist trying to influence the predictions – this is his investigation! 
  3. Ask your child to explain why he placed each item in its respective column. Remember: no judgment, please. Predicting and reasoning are critical thinking skills that are important for problem solving and reading comprehension.
  4. Let your little one place each of the items in the water, one at a time. Was his prediction correct? As each item is tested, he may want to change his predictions for the remaining items. That’s okay. It shows he is thinking critically and refining his thoughts based on evidence. Experiments conducted by professional scientists almost never work the way they predict!
  5. After your child has tested each of the items, ask him how the items that float are similar. What do the items that sink have in common? Be prepared, he may want to find some other items to further prove his hypothesis. 

Finding ways to play with science this summer will be easy. Just follow your child and listen to his questions – science is everywhere!


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