Science Activities for Infants

Michele Meleen
Exploring nature

Children are born with an inquisitive mind and learn about their world through discovery. Scientific concepts are a natural part of every baby's life. A combination of structured activities and free play will help babies discover what things are and how they work.

Astronomy

Mom and baby looking at stars

Given most babies' sometimes wacky sleeping schedules, it may be possible to take your baby outside and show her the starry night sky. However, if you have a great sleeper, or live in an urban area, observing the sky at night could be impossible to try at this age.

Seeing Stars

This activity can be done with infants of any age and requires parental assistance.

What You Need:

  • Hole punch
  • Index card
  • White envelope
  • Flashlight

Directions:

  1. Punch several holes in the index card. You can make a fun shape if you want.
  2. Place the index card in the envelope.
  3. Keep the lights on indoors and hold the envelope out in front of you with the flashlight about two inches from the front of the envelope. You can either sit baby on your lap or hold the items directly in front of him. Observe the "stars" you created with the hole punch.
  4. Move the flashlight to the back of the envelope, at the same distance. Allow baby to hold the flashlight and experiment while you make descriptive statements and ask questions.

The Result:

You should see the stars better when holding the flashlight behind the envelope because your body is blocking some light from the room. This is the same concept behind why stars can only be seen at night.

Biology

Baby looking in fish bowl

Biology is the branch of science that deals with living things, such as plants and animals. Simple activities like following a pet around and observing its behaviors can be entertaining for infants. While younger babies might only be able to watch, projects such as planting and tending to a garden will help teach biological concepts. Older infants will be able to take a more hands-on role.

Fish Out of Water

In this activity, you will create a thaumatrope to show your baby. A thaumatrope is a toy that moves quickly causing two separate pictures to appear as one. Adults will need to make and demonstrate the project, but babies of any age can enjoy watching the rapid movement.

What You Need:

  • White card stock
  • Pen
  • Scissors
  • String
  • Hole punch
  • Ruler

Directions:

  1. Cut a four-inch circle from the card stock. You can trace the bottom of a can or jar to make a perfect circle.
  2. Near the edge in the middle of one side of the circle punch two holes, on slightly above the other. Repeat this on the opposite side of the circle.
  3. Measure and cut two equal pieces of string, about 24 inches in length.
  4. Using one string and one set of the punched holes, thread the string through one hole and out the other. Repeat on the opposite side.
  5. Draw an empty fish bowl on one side of the paper and a simple fish on the opposite side, centering each as best you can.
  6. Holding the strings to the sides, twist the paper disc so the string gets twisted.
  7. Pull straight out on the strings as far as you can and watch the paper spin.

The Result:

As the circle spins faster it will appear as if the fish is actually inside the bowl. Your mind retains each picture as it passes and when the pictures pass this quickly, they overlap in your mind.

This experiment can also be done with a piece of sturdy paper taped to a pencil. In this case, you would twist the pencil by holding it upright between the palms of your hands. You can also get creative with the images by drawing other objects like a bird and a birdcage.

Chemistry

Baby dipping finger into color

Chemistry is the study of matter, which is anything that has mass and takes up space. Because babies learn through sensory experiences this particular branch of science can be the most fun for babies and small children. There are many simple ways to explore chemistry with your infant. However, keep in mind one sense babies use frequently is taste. When offering these activities be sure to use ingredients that are safe to ingest in case baby eats some.

  • Make edible play dough. Younger infants can watch as you mix ingredients while older babies can help dump in pre-measured parts.
  • Using milk, food coloring and liquid dish soap you can show 'currents' of color created by the resistance of the milk fat to the watery food coloring.
  • Demonstrate the attraction between positive and negative parts by rubbing a balloon against your (or baby's) hair then picking up small circles of paper made with a hole punch.
  • Make edible finger paints. Show baby how mixing two colors can create a new color.
  • Demonstrate how gas is removed from a solution by taping a balloon over the top of a pop bottle, then shaking the bottle. (Make sure to use a thumb to hold the balloon in place.) The balloon will fill with the gas as it is released.
  • Create a fizzy chemical reaction by mixing baking soda and vinegar.

Earth Science

Baby in sand

Earth science encompasses geology, astronomy, oceanography and meteorology where our planet and surrounding areas are studied. Simple activities that showcase Earth Science concepts include:

  • Making waves in the bathtub or water table
  • Playing in the sand or at the beach
  • Watching videos of meteor showers
  • Playing with a collection of medium-sized rocks (that can't be ingested or cause a major injury)

Acid Destruction

Babies who are able to grip small objects can help with this experiment by dropping the chalk into the vinegar when it is time. Younger infants can watch as the bubbles magically appear.

What You Need:

  • Standard stick of white chalk
  • Vinegar
  • Tall glass

Directions:

  1. Fill the glass about one-quarter full of vinegar.
  2. Drop a piece of chalk into the vinegar.

The Result:

You will see bubbles rise from the chalk and eventually see the piece of chalk break apart. As an acid, the vinegar reacts with the chalk which is made from limestone. This reaction causes the release of carbon dioxide, which is why you see the bubbles.

For older babies you could experiment with different types of rocks and natural materials to see if the effect is different. These variations may not capture the attention of younger babies, especially if the new materials do not cause a reaction.

Physics

Toddler and mother with magnets on refrigerator

One of the more complicated branches of science, physics involves studying how stuff (matter) and energy relate to and affect each other both literally and theoretically. Some concepts covered under this branch include magnetism, electricity and mechanics. Fun activities for infants that involve these ideas and can either be demonstrated or acted out by baby include:

  • Placing and removing magnets on the fridge
  • Turning on the power switch of a toy or safe object like a desk lamp

Boom, Boom

Parents and caregivers can demonstrate this activity and older babies may be able to participate in a more hands-on way.

What You Need:

  • Tennis ball
  • Wagon

Directions:

  1. Put the ball in the middle of the wagon bed.
  2. Quickly pull or push the wagon forward.
  3. Reset the ball and repeat.

The Result:

As the wagon moves, the ball will hit the back of it making a 'boom' or 'bang' sound (using a tennis ball helps ensure the sound is not too loud). The ball is stationary; it is actually the wagon that moves from under the ball which is why the ball hits the back of the wagon and not the front. This represents a demonstration of inertia which is the resistance to a change in motion.

How to Encourage Science Learning

Watering plant

You don't have to be a certified scientist to help your child learn about the scientific process or science concepts. The natural curiosity of babies combined with bits of useful information from a trusted adult creates an ideal environment for science learning. Experts at Head Start and parent intuition demonstrate there are many simple ways you can encourage your baby to question, explore and discover the world.

  • Describe what your baby is seeing and doing as she explores.
  • Ask questions about everyday objects and actions.
  • Allow for unstructured exploration.
  • Read books related to planned activities.
  • Introduce different environments and a wide variety of objects.

Keep in mind, infants have a very short attention span and plan activities accordingly. Healthychildren.org suggest by eight months old, a baby's attention span is only two to three minutes. By the age of one, this attention span may increase to a maximum of 15 minutes.

Another key point to consider is most scientific experiments and activities can be adapted to work for children of all ages. Scientist Steve Spangler has a great website with loads of experiments. It also showcases science-related products.

Age-Appropriate Scientific Concepts

There are many scientific concepts babies can easily learn about.

  • Cause and effect
  • Object permanence
  • Gravity
  • Problem-solving
  • Size and shape
  • Buoyancy
  • Spatial awareness
  • Opposites (empty/full, in/out, wet/dry)

Science Is Fun for Everyone

The skills used in making scientific discoveries are helpful in many other aspects of life. Helping your child develop an early love for discovery can be a lifelong gift.

Science Activities for Infants