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 second grader learn?

Expect second graders to learn about the world around them through observation and experimentation. They’ll learn to make more detailed observations and conclusions, using real world data to help validate hypotheses. Second-grade teachers cover the following topics:

  • The cycle of life: Plants and animals have predictable life cycles.
  • Seasons: The four seasons, including their characteristics.
  • Matter: Materials come in solid, liquid, and gas forms, and matter can change states.
  • The human body: The skeletal, muscular, digestive and nervous systems, and how to take care of the body.
  • Insects: The parts of the insect — abdomen, thorax and head — and their life cycles.
  • Electricity and magnetism: Electric currents and circuits, how batteries work, and the push and pull of magnets.
  • Earth and space: The properties of suns, moons, planets, and stars and their locations and movements.

What types of science instruction will my second grader get?

Second-grade teachers typically teach students to do experiments and record observations, both orally and in writing. Along with experimentation, books are also incorporated to encourage coherence and order to a child’s scientific learning. A second-grade teacher might conduct an experiment that demonstrates how light travels in a straight line. A teacher might use magnets to illustrate magnetic fields and poles, and show how they are used in compasses to show direction.

Getting acquainted with the physical world

Parents can expect their second-grade scientists to learn about the physical world. To understand that air actually has a weight, they might compare the weights of a full and empty balloon on a balance. Likewise, a teacher might introduce life cycles by setting up an area where students watch caterpillars spin cocoons and become butterflies.

Emphasizing skills over facts

More important than scientific facts at this stage is children’s ability to observe, ask questions, plan and do investigations, and record and communicate what they experience. The teacher might encourage students to investigate the circulatory system by asking them to put their hands on their chests to feel their heartbeats, comparing their heartbeat rates before and after exercise. Or a second grader might identify metamorphosis and various stages of life by observing tadpoles as they turn into frogs.

“In second grade, students tend to be more socially adept, and can be expected to work cooperatively in groups on planning, doing and reporting their science investigations,” says Fred Stein, our science curriculum consultant.

What to look for when you visit

  • Books about seasons, plants and animals, and the earth; space and the solar system; and the human body
  • Books about scientists who have contributed to science and technology
  • Hands-on areas that encourage experimentation and might feature microscopes, models, and skeletons
  • Safety glasses, thermometers, magnifying glasses, mirrors, bar magnets, and rulers
  • Aquariums, gardens, or other areas that allow kids to learn about the life cycles of plants and animals
  • Posted examples of student work, including lists of observations, questions, or drawings
  • Guest experts from museums, zoos, and botanical gardens

Updated April 2010