Fall is the best time for a nature inspired science center in preschool. This fall science center is appropriate for toddlers as well as preschoolers, allowing the children to explore all the colors, smells, textures and sounds to autumn that we all love so much.
I adore any science center that is based in nature. This is simple to put together, but as always I’m in awe of the learning that naturally took place once my preschoolers got their little hands on the materials. With just some gourds, pine cones, dried corn leaves and tassels, and some fallen leaves, this science center has kept my preschoolers busy learning for several weeks, and for upwards of forty five minutes at a time!
Usually, the fist thing a preschooler does is grab the magnifying glass to look closely at the materials. This toddler preschooler is looking closely at a pine cone, which she reports to pokey on her fingers and black on the inside. There are three different kinds and sizes of pine cones, and she looks at each one, doing her best to identify and put into words what she sees.
Here Corinne, who is four, is looking at a gourd. She comments on how bumpy it is, that she thinks it’s weird looking, and asks, “Can we eat it like a pumpkin?” This is a good question for her to ask, and shows how she is making connections to other experiences she has had with things that are similar. Corinne also talks about how she likes the color, and then wonders aloud is pumpkins can also be “white-ish, yellowish.” These questions give me guidance on how I should expand the fall science center to help her answer her questions.
One preschooler, who is three years old, lined up all the gourds so she could look closely at each of them. She discovered they are different colors and different textures. By handling them she also commented on how some of they are heavier than others. And then she picks up the gourd that has begun to dry out and the excitedly shakes it to listen to the seed rattle inside. “It makes noise!” She says excitedly! Then she stops and looks at the gourd, picks up another and shakes it. “Why doesn’t this one rattle?” The second gourd has not dried out, so it does not rattle, but this discovery leads us into learning about the things that make up a gourd.
This toddler looks at all the pine cones and carefully lines them up. He is young enough that he still doesn’t consistently identify big or small, but placing them in a line is how is organizes the materials and categorizes them, which is part of being a scientist. He is identifying that three pine cones are different from the other items in the wooden boxes.
Kent loved the dried corn tassels. He ran his fingers along each stem from the bottom to the top. His big discovery was that they make a great tool for tickling and pestering his classmates, which of course, he does. Soon the corn tassel, having been mishandled, begins to fall apart, and then Kent begins to pick it apart, making a big mess on the table and floor. He also picks apart the dried corn leaves, listening to them crunch as he fold the leaves, crumples and tears them apart. Being just turned two, this sensory experience shows him whole things can be taken apart and made into pieces and smaller parts, as he proudly shows me his mess. “Mama, see?” And then, when selecting another corn tassel, says, “Mama, watch me,” as he picks it apart and sprinkles the remains onto his mess. For a two year old, processing materials, even in a destructive way, is science.
Fall is one of my favorite seasons, and one reason is because of the learning opportunities for my preschoolers. This simple fall science center does not disappoint.
I’m Sarah, an educator turned stay-at-home-mama of five! I’m the owner and creator of Stay At Home Educator, a website about intentional teaching and purposeful learning in the early childhood years. I’ve taught a range of levels, from preschool to college and a little bit of everything in between. Right now my focus is teaching my children and running a preschool from my home. Credentials include: Bachelors in Art, Masters in Curriculum and Instruction.