Physical Science Activities for 4-Year-Olds

Physical science activities increase a child's observation skills.
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If you have a 4-year-old in the house, you’re living with a budding scientist.

He may not yet know what the word “science” means, but he acts like a scientist. Children have a natural curiosity about the world around them. They love to observe, ask questions and explore. Physical science is the perfect match for them. When your child whines, “I’m bored,” whip out some simple science activities and you’ll captivate his attention in record time.

1 Water

Young kids enjoy transferring water from one container to another with jugs and cups of various sizes. You've probably seen your child do this many times. Does it sink or float? That’s a question he can answer. Fill a pan with water and provide objects made of various solid and hollow materials, like wood and metal. He can test the objects and sort them. Ask him, "Is it a sinker? Or a floater?" Fill a pitcher nearly to the brim with water. Your son can use an eyedropper and count how many drops he adds before the water spills over the side.

2 Movement

Have you ever met a child who can sit still for long? Probably not. Movement activities are a perfect fit. Make airplanes from papers of different sizes and weights. Measure the distance each one flies. Set up a simple incline using a piece of wood. Your little one can roll differently sized balls down the incline.

Change the surface with a piece of material and watch his reaction. His eyes just lit up, didn't they? If he has a friend visiting, the two of them can play ping pong by blowing through straws to move the ball across a table.

3 Sound

Tell secrets through a piece of hose. Whisper into one end as he listens on the other end. He can place his ear on a table and feel the sound travel as you knock on the other end of the table. Entertain him with music. Fill three glasses with graduated levels of water. Leave a fourth glass empty.

Tell your child to tap each glass with a spoon and listen to the high and low sounds.

You can get creative and even play a familiar tune. He'll probably enjoy this so much that he might even become a rock star!

4 Light

If you’re enjoying a sunny day, take her outside to discover her shadow. Trace the shadow on a large piece of paper. Talk about how the shape is the same, but the size is different. Place a bowl of water in a sunlit area inside your home. She can gently move the bowl. Ask her to look at the “dancing waters” on the ceiling as the water reflects the light.

5 Magnets

Magnets are magic for little kids. Gather various items from around the house, making sure that some are magnetic, such as your refrigerator magnets. Use magnets of different strengths. Your child can sort the items.

Ask him to test the magnets. Ask him, "Is this a magnet?" He will sort these into piles marked “Yes” and “No” after he tests whether or not a magnet has picked up an item.

Make a paper boat and attach a paper clip to it.

Let him grab the paper clip with a magnet and sail the boat through a tub of water. Sail away, Captain!

6 Supervision

Supervise your child as he experiments, but allow him to make discoveries on his own.

Gently guide him toward scientific concepts. Be sure all materials you use are nontoxic and free of choking hazards.

Karen LoBello is coauthor of “The Great PJ Elf Chase: A Christmas Eve Tradition.” She began writing in 2009, following a career as a Nevada teacher. LoBello holds a bachelor's degree in K-8 education, a secondary degree in early childhood education and a master's degree in computer education.