Science isn’t just a body of knowledge — it’s a way of acquiring scientific concepts and principles, and the best elementary school programs get students interested in investigating the world around them. As children learn facts and vocabulary, they develop the ability to ask scientific questions, plan experiments to answer these questions, and develop reasonable explanations based on their observations.

Science standards vary widely from state to state and school to school, but the thinking skills taught by science are universal. Most elementary schoolers will get an introduction to sound, electricity, plants, animals, and the three states of matter (solid, liquid, and gas). The National Science Education Standards — the jumping-off place for many states — lists important topics and thinking skills for kindergarten through high school.

The topics below are examples taken from several states and therefore merely guidelines. To see how your child’s schoolwork compares, check out your state’s science standards.

What science concepts will my kindergartner learn?

Expect kindergartners to learn about the world around them through observation and experimentation. Most kindergarten teachers touch on the following topics:

  • Plants, animals, and their life cycles: The similarities and differences between plants and animals; their identifying characteristics (birds have feathers, plants have roots) — and kids might explore life cycles by studying butterflies and frogs.
  • Seasons and weather: Weather changes, both day to day and across the seasons.
  • The human body: Parts of the body, the five senses.
  • Measurement and motion: Magnets (push and pull), comparing objects by weight and size.

What types of science instruction will my kindergartner get?

Kindergartners learn how to conduct experiments and record observations. For example, teachers might show their students how to plant seeds in a see-through container, letting kids observe plants as they grow. Another kindergarten science aid, the weather vane, can help students visualize the various directions in which wind blows. Throughout their journey as experimenters, children should be encouraged to observe and communicate the changes they see.

Outside the kinder-lab, students learn about the biographies of famous scientists, like George Washington Carver, Jane Goodall, and the Wright brothers.

Getting acquainted with the physical world

Children should be encouraged to notice what they experience with their senses. A kindergartner would not be expected to read a thermometer to learn the temperature outside. Instead, your child might be asked whether it is hot or cold and which seasons typically have hot or cold weather. Likewise, teachers might discuss the food and water needs of a plant, and ask your child to compare them to their own nutritional needs.

A teacher who encourages your child to interact with materials and communicate observations plays a large role in helping her become a successful explorer.

The environment should encourage children to do the following:

  • Look closely at living and nonliving objects and describe what they notice
  • Ask questions about nature and seek answers
  • Collect rocks, leaves, or sticks
  • Count and measure items, making observations
  • Organize their collections and observations, while discussing findings
  • Prioritize acquiring skills over facts at this stage

Above and beyond any scientific facts, at this stage the focus should be on developing broad skills, including making observations and recording them, often through drawings. For example, teachers might ask their students to bite into an apple, taste it, then talk about their observations while referencing each of the five senses.

What to look for when you visit

  • Books about the seasons, plants and animals, and the earth as well as the human body
  • Hands-on areas that encourage experimentation and might include water tables, models, and skeletons
  • Safety glasses, thermometers, magnifying glasses, mirrors, bar magnets, and rulers
  • An aquarium for studying the life cycles of plants and animals
  • Guest experts from museums, zoos, and botanical gardens

Updated April 2010