Water is a huge topic to cover in science and is touched on in many grades throughout a child’s life. In kindergarten I try and introduce my students to the key understandings of water through fun, hands-on experiments and activities. All of these activities come from my water unit, in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.
Introducing the Water Unit
When I start the unit on water, I like to start hearing from my students about what they already know about water, or think they know. This helps me to learn about any misunderstandings they may have. This year, thanks to Frozen II, some of my students believe that water has memory and can be used to see the past. Some other students believe that the reason the ocean is so deep is because the meteor that hit the dinosaurs only hit in the deep part of the ocean. I also like to hear my students’ questions and use those to guide their thinking throughout the unit, such as, “How does water move?” and “What is water made of?”.
After sharing their thinking, I want to give my students a chance to observe water. I put water in a clear bin and let them smell, listen, feel, and look at water. Most of them are surprised it is not blue! I also do activities with them where they have water droppers and a plastic plate and observe the water. They can also try and cover a penny with water drops and observe what happens during the process. Before doing any experiments, it is these moments of observation that will help all of my students to have a basic understanding and schema of water.
Play-Based Water Learning
As with any science unit, play-based learning is the best way for young children to discover so much about a topic. When we learn about water, I clean out my sand table and turn it into a water table. I put different things in it like ice, snow, and water. I ask my students questions and follow their leads. Sometimes I might offer them a new material that can help further their discoveries. For example, the other day I gave a group of students a funnel and some hot water and they were delighted to discover they could make a hole in the ice this way! While we will do fun whole-class activities and experiments, this play-based learning will be where most of the important learning comes from, because it will be completely child-directed. I will take videos and pictures and then have the students share their learning with each other. Or, if it’s something really cool like the hole in the ice, the whole class will come over and watch!
Key Understandings of Water
In my activities and experiments, there are three key understandings that I want all of my students to know: the concept of absorb and repel, changing states of water, and sink and float.
Absorb and Repel
Some fun activities for this concept is to have a bunch of materials and have the students discover which ones absorb the water and which ones repel the water. It is also really fun to give students a soaking wet paper towel and have students test out different ways to dry it the fastest.
Changing States of Matter
The concept of changing states of matter is perfect for New England winters! We use ice and snow for this concept. Simply putting ice and snow in a cup and watching it melt is hugely effective! Students are always surprised at how little liquid comes from the melted ice and snow. If you are in an area of the country where you don’t have snow, you can still do these experiments with just ice. I also love to give my students an ice cube and ask them what’s the fastest way to melt the ice cube.
Evaporation is a tricky concept for kindergartners because you really can’t see it. However, one way that I teach this concept is by putting out a cup of water and drawing a line on it. Then students observe it over a few days and watch how the water slowly, slowly, disappears.
Sink and Float
Students usually have some background knowledge of the concept of sinking and floating. However, this doesn’t usually transfer to which objects will sink and which will float. I love to ask students to predict what will happen and then observe to see if they were correct. I hope that they remember what they discovered for our final activity.
Putting it all together
I love ending a science unit with a fun and engaging project that combines everything they learned. In this case, my students have the challenge of working together in groups to create a boat out of recycled objects around the room. Then the boats, not only have to float, but hold pennies! Last year, most of my students chose a sponge as their base, which floated fine, until we added pennies. Then, because it absorbs water, it became very heavy with the pennies and sunk right to the bottom. The children were so invested in this project that they kept asking to try again, to make changes, and to do this activity again.
Finally, I always end my science units by having my students reflect on something they learned from the unit. I love hearing the things they take away from the unit, and it is really good feedback for me as well!
Water is such a huge topic to teach but there are so many fun and engaging activities and experiments we can do with our students to help introduce them to the key concepts. In addition to the activities and experiments from my water unit, students can discover so much by simply playing with water!