Science – For Young Einsteins

"Opportunities for science are everywhere. Whenever children are learning about the world – observing, asking questions, predicting, making discoveries – they are engaging in science."

As the Ministry of Education ECE website says, "science is about discovery, not about learning facts."

Benefits Of Science Play

Among other things, science play helps children:

  • develop thinking, questioning and problem-solving skills
  • develop an awareness of the environment
  • learn about ordered activity
  • increase their desire for learning
  • attain a sense of achievement and self-esteem.

And for children who explore natural environments regularly, there are a huge range of benefits: for health, coordination, concentration, stress levels, imagination and creativity, among others.

Dramatic Play & Science

According to Alison Gopnik, a leading researcher in cognitive development, when children pretend (or engage in dramatic play), they're engaging in science! They're considering possibilities and testing their theories about the world.

Dramatic play is important for other reasons too: it helps develop social and language skills; allows the expression of positive and negative feelings; teaches children to negotiate, take turns and resolve conflict; and helps children make sense of the world.

Ideas For Science Play

Experimenting with electronic circuits (using a BrainBox kit)
Growing washing-soda crystals
Experimenting with magnets
Taking apart old equipment (e.g. an old clock or camera) to see how it works
Creating static electricity by running a pen over wool
Putting a jar down over a burning candle to show how the air is "used up"
Looking at flowers, leaves, roots, stems, seeds and fruit
Starting an ant farm
Using a bug catcher to catch bugs and observe them. (Make sure you return them to their habitat.)
Watching air escape from a bottle under water
Making a musical instrument by filling glasses with different levels of water and tapping them gently with a wooden spoon

Essential Equipment

Playcentre recommends the following as a minimum for early learning centres:

Table or display space
Containers (as needed)
Insect box (or plastic jars)
Natural and man-made materials (to stimulate and reward children's curiosity about their social and physical worlds, and the world of nature)
Reference books
Magnifying glasses
Magnets (horseshoe type)
Magnifying bug jar (any size)
Fish tank (plastic or laminated glass fitted to earthquake standard)

See the Playcentre basic equipment list


A range of accessories will stimulate the young scientist.

For example, things that work (switches, coils, springs and ball bearings), things that can be taken apart (an old engine, telephone, clock or camera) and nature collections (shells, bark, feathers and seeds).


  • Provide a low table with a variety of items on it for children to explore.
  • Include natural resources.
  • Actively encourage children to investigate and experiment.
  • Discuss children's play with them. Make room for their theories to be heard and explored.
  • Do lots of outside exploration, in the natural environment.

Te Whāriki & Science Play

Science play relates particularly to Strands 1, 2 and 5 of Te Whāriki, which are Well-being/Mana Atua, Belonging/Mana Whenua and Exploration/Mana Aotūroa.

To learn more about Te Whāriki, visit the website.

Our thanks to the Auckland Playcentre Shop for permission to use this article. Great play starts here.