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Karen Wang
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14 Tools For Science Exploration In The Summer

“We have a whole cupboard of art supplies, but no space for science supplies!” my husband indignantly exclaimed. That wasn’t completely true - after all, our box of math manipulatives was stuffed into the art cupboard.  We have plenty of scientific tools scattered around the house.  But he had a point.  Exploration of the natural world is the perfect way to encourage social engagement, sensory integration and general awareness.  Summertime science lessons also help prevent academic regression.  We needed a science cupboard.

What should we put into a science cupboard?  We found a dozen inexpensive, everyday items to help our son with his summer goals: speech, fine motor skills, social skills and retention of academic skills.

1. Binoculars

The binoculars go wherever we go, because they open up new questions about detail and focus.  They also give our son a different way of looking at the world.  We found a sturdy set for $10.

2. Magnifying Glass

The first thing we did with the magnifying glass was sprinkle a few salt crystals and sugar crystals on the table and look at them up close.  Most kids want to look at everything under a magnifying glass.

3. Prism

One of my most cherished toys from childhood was a small glass prism from Edmund Scientifics.  I mostly used it to make rainbows in my room.

4. Kaleidoscope

A small kaleidoscope from the dollar store is the perfect toy for a long road trip.  after watching the patterns for a long time, inevitably the question will arise about how those patterns form.  That’s when we get a pencil and paper and draw a diagram of the interior mirror and the reflections.

5. Jar

My husband reminded me that a clean jar with a lid is one of the most valuable scientific instruments - for collecting specimens, mixing compounds, even building a mini-terrarium.  We have a collection of odd-shaped containers with lids that we use for making ice in different shapes during the summer.  Right now we have a container filled with superabsorbent hydrogel beads so that we can learn about polymers and water absorption.

6.  Colander

A colander is good for collecting, sorting and rinsing found objects such as rocks.

7 and 8. Garden Gloves and Spade

Digging in the earth is the opportunity to observe our ecosystem up close.  It’s also a wonderful way to develop fine motor control.  For sensory defensive people, garden gloves provide an extra layer of security in nature - my son felt comfortable handling a garter snake in our yard while wearing gloves. If you don’t have a yard, consider getting a flower box or volunteering at a community garden.

9. Net

Nets can be used for catching butterflies, dragonflies and fish - but my 6 year old just uses it to imagine what he might catch.

10. PVC Pipes

We have a small assortment of plumbing pipes that hook up to our garden hose, and we use them to observe the flow of water in different directions, since there usually two or more openings in the network of pipes.  Last summer we used the pipes to create a waterslide in our backyard.

11. Flashlight

Things look different at night, but the only way to find out is go out there with a flashlight!

12. Wind Sock

We got a long, skinny plastic bag and opened it at both ends.  We held it out to the wind until it puffed up with air, then we tied it at both ends to keep our “captured” wind inside.

13. Outdoor Sidewalk “Paint”

Painting has been a highly effective activity for my son’s sensory integration.  We mix up sidewalk paint using cornstarch, cold water and food coloring, and bring it outside to paint our sidewalk - it’s the perfect combination of art and science (the corn starch mixture is a non-Newtonian fluid).

14. Periodic Table of Elements

Most people don’t get to know the periodic table until they start high school chemistry - but I don’t know if my son will ever be able to take high school chemistry.  I do know that he has questions about the natural world, and he has found some of his answers on the periodic table.  We use the periodic table to identify the composition of rocks, minerals, water, air and everyday objects - because science is for everyone. What are your favorite tools for scientific discovery?

WRITTEN ON November 12, 2013 BY:

Karen Wang

Karen Wang is a Friendship Circle parent. You may have seen her sneaking into the volunteer lounge for ice cream or being pushed into the cheese pit by laughing children. She is a contributing author to the anthology "My Baby Rides the Short Bus: The Unabashedly Human Experience of Raising Kids With Disabilities"