Science ideas for preschoolers – Part 2: Race through the dirt

Teach young children about the connection between surface water and groundwater with this simple activity.

This is the second in a series of articles on science activities about the natural world that anyone can conduct with preschoolers. (For part one, see "Science ideas for preschoolers.") These activities can be done within a family, in a day-care setting, as part of school activities or with any group working with preschool-aged children. This activity focuses on how the soil where we live affects water. Most preschoolers love asking questions, even if adults are annoyed by the answers. Those preschoolers are moving through the scientific method.

Simplified steps of the scientific method are:

  1. Ask a question.
  2. Make a guess at what the answer to the question will be.
  3. Conduct an experiment to check your guess.
  4. Figure out if your guess was correct.

Most of us learned the water cycle a long time ago: the heat of the sun causes water to evaporate. The water condenses to form clouds. Then precipitation in the form of rain or snow causes water to fall back to the earth, and the process repeats.

This leaves out a big portion of the water cycle. What happens when the water hits the surface of the earth? The simplified version that we were taught in school does not take into account soils. Here is a simple experiment you can conduct with minimal supplies:

  1. Start with three empty 2-liter pop bottles with their caps.
  2. Cut the bottom off the pop bottle.
  3. Put holes in the cap of the bottle with a small nail, and put the cap back on the bottle.
  4. Fill the bottles (from the cut out bottom) – fill one with gravel (pea gravel or other small stones), fill a second with sand and the last with clay (kitty litter is a good source of clay that many people have access to)
  5. Have a race! Have three children pour a glass of water through each of the “soil tubes” – and see who wins! Talk to the children about who they think will win before the race starts.

After the experiment, you can discuss with the children how it relates to the real world. When it rains, where does the water go if you have a clay soil versus a gravelly soil? If pollution is spilled on the ground, where will it go?

Hopefully this small experiment is something you can conduct with young children to get them interested and learning about science.

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