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Play, Observe and Ask (in EYFS)

Strategies, provision, activities and examples of young children learning science to support EYFS practitioners.

This webpage offers support and resources for adults who are helping very young children (ages 3-5) to explore the world around them with a focus on learning science. Activities and strategies are suitable for use by educators in an Early Years setting or by parents or carers at home.

Overview

This resource focuses on the teaching and learning of science in Early Years (ages 3-5 years) through play.

Click on the Effective Practice tab to find out how you could develop science teaching and learning in your Early Years setting or at home. You will find strategies that you might like to use to develop children’s science skills and science vocabulary, as well as their knowledge and understanding of the world around them.

Click on the Provision Maps tab to see ideas for activities and science investigations suitable for Early Years children. These are one-page maps that focus on learning science in an Early Years classroom or outdoors and they are linked to different topics, nursery rhymes and storybooks that are commonly used.

Click on the Resources tab to find wildlife games and activities that introduce plants, animals and fungi commonly found in Britain. These are intended to develop children's knowledge of the names and features of living creatures and habitats that could be found in their local environment. We believe that as children become familiar with the natural world around them, they will enjoy nature and want to care for it.

Do you have a question about Early Years science?

Click on Frequently Asked Questions. We have listed some commonly asked questions about some of the challenges faced by Early Years practitioners and offer some ideas to overcome these. If your question is not answered there, please contact Alison Trew on alison.trew@pstt.org.uk or get in touch via the PSTT office on info@pstt.org.uk.

Acknowledgements

This resource was created in 2021 by PSTT Fellows who have extensive experience teaching in the Early Years Foundation Stage: Jane Catto, Chris Lawson, Kathy Schofield, Claire Seeley and Alison Trew (in England), Elaine Stockdale (in Wales), Liz Branniff (In Northern Ireland) and Nicola Connor (in Scotland). The work was made possible through PSTT Small College Project funding .

We are also extremely grateful to Susanna Ramsey (founder of The Nature Collection) who has shared ideas and images that we have included in the Wildlife materials.

Please note that by suggesting science activities linked to popular children's books, the PSTT is not claiming any endorsement of these resources by the authors or publishers of these books. The purpose of this resource is to promote interest and skills in science in young children and to encourage those involved in their education to engage children with stories, science and exploration of the world around them.

Effective Practice

Here we have suggested a range of strategies that you could use with children aged 3 to 5 years. Within some sections, we have included exemplars of children learning science in this way. Please click on the sections below to find out more.

Play, Observe AND Ask

We have called this resource Play, Observe and Ask because we believe this describes succinctly how practitioners in Early Years can effectively support and nurture young children learning about the world around them (that's science!).

Evidence to support this approach

The Effective Pre-School, Primary and Secondary Education (EPPSE) project (1997-2003) was the UK’s first major study into the effectiveness of early years education. The project demonstrated the positive effects of high quality pre-school provision on children’s intellectual and social behavioural development and it changed thinking and practice in pre-school entitlement, pedagogy, curriculum and teacher education in the UK. Findings from the Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE) project (2004) suggest that children made the most progress when:

- there was more ‘sustained shared thinking’ – that is when two or more individuals work together in an intellectual way to solve a problem, clarify a concept, evaluate an activity or extend a narrative. This could be a 1:1 interaction between children or a child and a supporting adult.

- there was an equal balance between child-initiated activities and staff-initiated activities. The report states: Almost half the child-initiated episodes that contained intellectual challenge included interventions from a staff member to extend the child’s thinking. Freely chosen play activities often provided the best opportunities for adults to extend children’s thinking.

You can download the full report here.


To enhance young children’s learning, we suggest the following approach:

Play

Provide opportunities for the children to play and explore new concepts, sometimes independently and sometimes with a supporting adult.

Observe

Take time to observe children playing independently and listen to their conversations. Decide whether the children understand what they are doing and whether they can they explain what they are noticing. Consider whether there is an opportunity to get involved in the play to clarify the learning, extend the narrative or to introduce new vocabulary. To extend the learning, you might want to introduce a problem and work together to solve it

Ask

Consider the type of questions that a supporting adult might ask to develop children’s thinking whilst playing alongside the children. The EPPE project found that in the settings where children made most progress, staff engaged in open-ended questioning and provided formative feedback to children during the activities. Before providing the activity, plan the questions that could be asked, the specific vocabulary that could be introduced and any challenges that might extend the learning. If you are a teacher, remember to share these questions and vocabulary with your teaching assistants!

A well-planned environment will enhance the learning experiences of the children. We suggest how to provide engaging opportunities for Early Years children to learn about science in our Early Years Science Provision Maps. You will also find possible questions to ask and vocabulary related to each activity. Please click on the next tab to find out more about these.

I see, I notice, I wonder...

This is an effective, very easy strategy to develop young children’s observation and questioning skills. It can be done with any object and provides a simple format to enhance science talk. You can learn so much from observing what children say and do in response.

'I see...' is the beginning. Children look at the object, maybe draw it, and say what they see (an adult may need to prompt by saying, 'I see...'). If the object is an unfamiliar one this is a good place to spot misconceptions that may need to be addressed.

'I notice...' adds more detail and encourages children to put their ideas into words and select appropriate vocabulary. At this point they need to handle the object so that they can describe what they feel, hear and maybe even smell. If children struggle, adults can support and model vocabulary (very useful for children with English as an additional language or SEND).

'I wonder...' is the beginning of formulating questions and understanding different enquiry types. Children can then be supported to find out the answer.

For example, these children were shown a pumpkin.

I see... a pumpkin.

I notice... it's smooth and it has bumpy edges. The bit on the top looks like a nose.

I wonder... if we put it in water, will it float?





I see... a pumpkin.

I notice... it's hard. It looks a bit like a tomato. It's bumpy.

I wonder... has it got seeds in like my pumpkin? I think every pumpkin's got seeds.




Encouraging Independent exploration

Children are naturally curious and keen to explore the world around them with awe and wonder. We can make the most of their desire to learn in a hands-on way by making sure our provision is accessible and engaging. Valuing child-led learning in all areas and encouraging children to plan and take ownership of what they want to discover next, sets them up for success. One way to do this is to set up a mini science lab in your provision where children can make predictions, test out their science ideas and explore independently. These work well both inside and outside and it is useful to get children involved in designing and creating them with you. Activities can be changed weekly – or as often as you decide – and encourage children to see themselves as super scientists both now and in the future.

Resources to make accessible to the children:

  • Magnifying glasses
  • Plastic pipettes, pots, beakers, jugs, spoons
  • Clipboards, paper, pencils
  • Magnets, torches, cubes to measure with
  • Aprons or lab coats

Ideas for exploration that could be introduced:

  • 2l plastic bottles with pipe cleaner pieces / paper clips / non-magnetic items inside, and magnets to slide over the bottle to try and move the contents
  • Light filters, prisms, water bottles with added glitter, torches
  • Bugs in resin / toy minibeasts / fact cards / sorting hoops
  • Variety of pegs / lolly sticks / elastic bands for tower building STEM fun
  • Nature items from different seasons with magnifying glasses and non-fiction books
  • Variety of bottles filled with layers of coloured water / oil / sparkles
  • Seeds - bean / sunflower / pea / cress / pumpkin etc and sorting trays
  • Coloured liquids, pipettes and test tubes / plastic shot glasses for colour mixing
  • Filter paper, felt tip pens, water, pipettes – for chromatography (splitting the ink colours)
  • Water tray, sorting hoops and items to test for floating and sinking
  • Pots containing different items – shake, listen and match the sounds to photo cards
  • A variety of different magnets, paper clips – to investigate magnet strength
  • The possibilities are endless!

Developing Talk IN Early Years Science

From an early age, children seek to explore and understand the world around them. Doing, thinking and talking about science is a key part of the EY curriculum. Talk in early science introduces and consolidates new vocabulary and provides opportunities for children to share ideas and build understanding. Early science talk is a key window into children’s early scientific thinking that can help us with assessment, identifying misconceptions, challenging thinking and encouraging children to justify their reasoning.

Creating an environment for talk begins in EY with the establishment of some basic rules for speaking and listening. A culture should be created where all ideas are valued, and where children are confident to share their ideas. The practitioner has a key role in this, modelling effective speaking and listening, introducing key vocabulary and responding respectfully to all contributions. There are many tried and tested strategies for encouraging scientific talk in young children, for example using a picture or video stimulus and asking, “I wonder what is happening/going to happen?” or using an 'odd one out' activity to draw out children’s thinking. In EY, rich stimuli that invite curiosity and allow time and space for hands-on exploration are key. Investigating sinking and floating in the water tray, playing with ramps and cars, or exploring torches and shadows, when combined with effective questioning are just some of the ways children can be supported to develop their early scientific talk and answer their own scientific questions.

Examples of effective question prompts:

  • What can you see?
  • What does it remind you of?
  • What do you think will happen next?
  • How can we change this?
  • What do you already know about...?
  • What is the same/different?
  • I wonder why...
  • I wonder when...
  • I wonder how...
  • I wonder what...
  • What would happen if...?

Developing observation skills

Throughout their time learning science at school, children will be expected to make careful observations, observe changes over time and notice patterns and changes. There are lots of fun ways to help young children develop their observation skills and these will help them, not only in future science lessons, but potentially throughout their lives as well. Supporting adults could model observing alongside the children and ask questions that encourage children to observe more closely (and develop talk):

  • What can you see? / What do you notice?
  • What does that remind you of?
  • What do you think will happen next?
  • What do you think might happen if...?

Here are some useful activities to get you started:

  • Teach children how to use simple equipment like magnifying glasses – start with simple items like leaves, so children are ready to observe those moving minibeasts from the bug hotel.
  • Enjoy observing activities that change over time – a melting snowman, dissolving vitamin C tablet, seeds grown in transparent cups so the roots can be observed. Use time lapse videos to speed things up (e.g. changes over the seasons) and slow things down (e.g. a bubble popping).
  • Use Explorify zoom in zoom out activities and digital microscopes to look closely at items that the children are interested in. Talk in detail about what you notice and encourage children to do the same.
  • Try some of PSTT's Early Years Wildlife resources, such as Wildlife Dominoes, Wilidlife Faces, Paired Pictures, Odd One Out and Who am I? Please click on 'The Natural World' tab on this page to find these.
  • Play the cookie observation game – this is a real motivator for observing closely! In groups of 6-10 children, write their names on the bottom of paper plates and give each child a chocolate chip cookie to observe, draw and label on their plate. Mix up the plates and tell the children that they can eat their cookie – but first they have to prove it is theirs.

Outdoor Learning

The benefits of outdoor learning are very well established and documented:

  • Spending time outside has been shown to improve general health and well-being
  • Children can be more engaged with their learning
  • A positive effect on teacher-child relationships when learning is taken outside
  • The development of life skills such as self-confidence, risk-taking, risk-management and resilience
  • Outdoor learning is an important was of contextualising science
  • Learning about the natural world helps to develop responsible attitudes to the environment and makes it more likely that the world will be cared for
  • Learning about the natural world or our engineered environment will be deeper and more lasting if children experience it first hand

A short review of the literature concerning outdoor learning in primary schools is available in the Association of Science Education's (ASE) Journal of Emergent Science (2019) Issue 16, pages 40-45: The benefits of outdoor learning on science teaching.

If you are a member of the ASE, you may also be interested in an article by PSTT Fellow, Nicky Bolton, that describes 'Bucket School' as an approach for exciting outdoor learning. This is available in Primary Science (2020) Issue 161, pages 33-35.

We hope that you are persuaded that outdoor learning is worth pursuing and that it is never too early to start!

How to get started

You might start by taking children outside in the school grounds to observe what is around them:

Visit the same natural area at different times of day, in different weathers, in different seasons. You might be interested in PSTT's Early Years Science Provision Maps for Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter.

Ask the children:

  • What is the same?
  • What is different?
  • What lives here?
  • What changes over time?

Explore your outside environment with data loggers (yes, even very young children can use dataloggers or apps on tablets or mobile phones to measure sound, light and temperature. They are not afraid of technology!) Some possible questions that children could investigate are:

  • Where is the quietest/loudest place in your school grounds?
  • Where is the sunniest/shadiest place?
  • Where is the warmest/coldest place?
  • Does this change during the day/week/year? Why?

If you have enough adult support, you may decide to explore the local environment outside the school grounds, e.g. a weekly nature walk, a ‘welly walk’, a visit to the market or a playground. Remember that science is all around us and that it is not just the natural world that we should be sharing with young children. Children are also learning about the engineered world around them. For example:

  • At a market, children could look at different types of foods, fabrics and clothes. What foods keep us healthy? What do these foods feel/smell/taste like? What do these fabrics feel like? How are they similar/different? Which fabrics keep us warm? Which fabric is suitable for a winter coat?
  • At a playground, children could find out what their bodies can do. What happens when you sit at the top of the slide? What happens to your breathing/skin/arms/legs when you run around? They could investigate push/pull forces on different equipment. How do you make this move?

What challenges are there?

Taking children outside might require more adult support than when you are in the classroom, particularly if you take the children away from the school grounds. You should check on your school policy for this.

When there no are physical boundaries to the learning space outside, you need to give very clear instructions to the children (before you go outside) so that they know what is acceptable behaviour and what is not.

Useful resources

The following PSTT resources may help your school to make the most of its outdoor areas:

Let's Go! Science Trails - the book, developed by a group of teachers in the London borough of Haringey and led by PSTT Fellow Jeannette Morgan, offers support and ideas for 29 science Trails covering all aspects of the primary science curriculum to promote outdoor learning from ages 4-11.

Let's Go! STEM Trails - a book describing another 29 Trails to explore science concepts in the outdoor environment of the school grounds and locality, which focus on and link this to technology, engineering and maths in thought-provoking ways. Suitable from ages 4-11.

Playground Science - is a set of fun and informal science activities that children can carry out in their playtimes. The activities use simple instructions and a small amount of equipment to encourage the children to explore the world around them and to develop scientific skills.

using stories

Science communicators for years have used stories as a meaningful context and effective way to communicate with an audience as stories are integral to all cultures. Studies indicate that stories help audiences to process and recall new information. Studies also show that messages delivered as stories can be 22 times more memorable than just facts. Stories tease the imagination and science feeds off our curiosity about the world. Stories can spark that imagination and curiosity, being the hook with which learners engage.

Young children love stories! When you put a story together with playful, scientific enquiry, the result can be a really good combination of high interest, enjoyable, creative and engaging science. Using children’s interest in picture books and stories not only helps develop their literacy skills but allows children to see the purpose and relevance to the science learning and put it into a meaningful context.

Have a look at PSTT's Early Years Provision Maps (which can be downloaded from the Provision Maps tab on this page) for ideas for scientific learning linked to popular storybooks. Children develop an immediate sense of empathy as they try to solve a scientific mystery or help a character from a story. They quickly become motivated within the story context and develop many scientific skills such as prediction, observation and communication.

Adapting whole school science events

Early Years Foundation Stage is a vital part of a school, so there should be no reason for it to be left out of whole school science events. Of course, this does not mean that EYFS children should do activities that are inappropriate for their needs because the rest of school is doing them. With a little planning, meaningful activities can be designed to fit the learning needs of young children, ensuring that their experiences of whole school events are every bit as valuable as those of the older pupils.

This type of event may be planned by the science lead (who might not have EYFS experience) or may come from published resources, which are often Key Stage 1 or Key Stage 2 based. To ensure it is accessible and relevant for EYFS children, it is probably down to EYFS staff to do a bit of tweaking! To make your event successful:

  • Know what you want the children to get out of the experience. It could be particular science knowledge, or equally, it could be to get children talking, questioning, investigating and thinking scientifically.
  • As well as adult-led activities, give children plenty of opportunities to play, observe and investigate independently, and have adults on hand to extend their talk and thinking.
  • Celebrate your pupil’s achievements. Join in assemblies, create displays, contribute to newsletters, send photographs to parents. Basically, make sure everyone knows that small children are amazing scientists!

As an example: My school held a whole school 'Science meets History' week, based on the PSTT's Standing on the Shoulders of Giants resource (you can find out about this here). This is a wonderful resource for KS1 and KS2, and was easily adapted for EYFS. We concentrated on the science (in terms of history it was enough to say that a scientist who lived long ago found a way to solve a problem). We chose to adapt a unit on John McAdam to provide meaningful investigations for very young children. In adult-led sessions, the children explored and described various surfaces and the way cars moved when they pushed on them. In free-play they continued to investigate independently, especially outdoors where they rode trikes and pushed trolleys on grass, pavement, gravel, etc. Nursery and Reception pupils were talking, investigating and explaining using appropriate scientific vocabulary, which was exactly the outcome we wanted.

Provision Maps

All the Early Years Science Provision Maps here are intended to help teachers, teaching assistants and other carers to create stimulating learning experiences for very young children that develop their scientific knowledge and understanding.

Each Science Provision Map looks at the different areas of provision commonly found in an Early Years setting: small world, construction, role play, water, sand, malleable play, sensory play, modelling and outdoor learning. For each area of provision (when appropriate links to learning science can be made), we make suggestions for the following:

    • the learning environment – What do you intend the children to learn? What experiences will you provide? What resources will you need? How will you share this with children?
    • scientific literacy (reasoning) – What questions will you ask that will develop children’s thinking and talking about science?
    • science vocabulary – What words will you introduce? How technical/scientific should the language be with very young children?

These resources are not schemes of work, but give a flexible starting point for talking about science with very young children. They can and should be adapted to the needs and abilities of your children and what is available in your setting. We do not expect that all of these learning opportunities will be presented to children at the same time.

We have provided two types of Early Years Science Provision Map:

  • some are linked to topics that are commonly used in an Early Years setting,
  • some are linked to storybooks or nursery rhymes enjoyed by young children.

Here is an example:

You can see examples of children carrying out some of the activities, or the equipment used, by clicking on the camera icons.

Note: if there are no obvious links to science learning in a particular area of provision, none have been made. You may decide to use these areas of provision to develop other areas of the curriculum such as numeracy or literacy skills, but we have not mentioned these here.

Please scroll down the page to download Science Provision Maps for the following topics:

  • Ourselves
  • Animals in my garden
  • Birthday Science
  • Football science
  • Spring Farms
  • Summer Fruit
  • Autumn Leaves
  • Winter Snow & Ice

And scroll further down the page to download Science Provision Maps for the following storybooks and nursery rhymes:

  • Christopher Nibble
  • Dear Zoo
  • Dinosaurs Day Out
  • Humpty Dumpty
  • Incy Wincy Spider
  • Rosie's Hat
  • Supertato
  • The Black Rabbit
  • The Gingerbread Man
  • The Rainbow Fish
  • The Scarecrow's Wedding
  • The Three Little Pigs
  • The Ugly Five
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar

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Ourselves [218.53kB]

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Animals in my garden [466.24kB]

Topic

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Birthdays / Celebrations [249.66kB]

Topic

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Football [421.70kB]

Topic

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Spring / Farm [613.19kB]

Topic

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Summer / fruit [422.83kB]

Topic

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Autumn / Trees [732.82kB]

Topic

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Winter / Snow & ice [369.09kB]

Topic

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Christopher Nibble [227.43kB]

Book by Charlotte Middleton

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Dear Zoo [373.37kB]

Book by Rod Campbell

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Dinosaur's Day Out [232.94kB]

Book by Nick Sharratt

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Humpty Dumpty [265.28kB]

Traditional nursery rhyme

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Incy Wincy Spider [245.26kB]

Traditional nursery rhyme

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Rosie's Hat [237.67kB]

Book by Julia Donaldson

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Supertato [260.93kB]

A series of books by Sue Hendra & Paul Linnet

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The Black Rabbit [170.59kB]

Book by Philippa Leathers

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The Gingerbread Man [234.02kB]

A traditional tale

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The Rainbow Fish [229.13kB]

Book by Marcus Pfister

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The Scarecrow's Wedding [366.09kB]

Book by Julia Donaldson and Alex Scheffler

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The Three Little Pigs [224.13kB]

A traditional tale

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The Ugly Five [551.52kB]

Book by Julia Donaldson and Alex Scheffler

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The Very Hungry Caterpillar [460.96kB]

Book by Eric Carle

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Resources

Currently, the resources we have for the EYFS are picture-based and about British wildlife. These are intended to develop children's knowledge of the names and features of living things typically found in parks, gardens, fields and hedgerows in the United Kingdom. The resources are also designed to develop children's observational skills and scientific literacy through play and group talk.

You might like to use these resources before taking children outside to explore their natural environment or as a follow-on activity when you have been outside. Please scroll down to the bottom of this page to download the resources described here.


Animal Dominoes

Learning outcome: children will become familiar with the appearance and features of different types of animals (some insects, birds and mammals).

Suitable for small groups of children.

There are 28 picture dominoes. Adults will need to prepare the cards for each game in advance but once made, these can be used many times.

Ask: Can you match the images?

While playing the game, encourage children to talk about the features and body parts of the different animals.

The names of the animals are given in the Teacher Guidance.


Wildlife Faces

Learning outcome: children will develop their observational skills (they will need to look very closely at the colour and shape of the faces, the eyes and the ears).

Suitable for one child or small groups of children.

There are 12 images of animal faces. Each face should be cut in half to make 24 cards in total. Adults will need to prepare the cards for each game in advance but once made, these can be used many times.

Ask: Can you match the faces?

The names of the animals are given in the Teacher Guidance.


Who am I?

Learning outcome: children start to recognise the features of common animals and name some of them.

Suitable for one child, a small group or the whole class.

This is a slidehow.

On each slide there are 3 shapes partly covering an animal.

Ask: Can you guess who is hiding? Can you explain why you think this?

Remove the shapes one at a time to reveal the hidden animals.

The names of the animals are given in the slidenotes.


The following Wildlife Activities encourage children to talk about the similarities and differences they see. Through talking and listening to each other, jusifying what they think, and possibly challenging what others think, children can start to use scientific vocabulary with confidence and understanding, and develop their scientific literacy. These activities could be used in the EYFS, KS1 or KS2.


Paired Pictures for Talk

Learning outcome: children can identify similarities and differences between two animals, plants or fungi.

Suitable for a small group or a whole class.

There are three Paired Pictures slideshows - Animals, Birds, Plants & Fungi.

Ask: What is the same and what is different? Encourage children to talk about this.

Detailed information about each animal/plant/fungus is provided for the teacher.

Wildlife Odd One Out

Learning outcome: children can identify similarities and differences between a group of animals, plants or fungi.

Suitable for a small group or while class.

There is one slideshow with eight Odd One Out activities. Each slide has 4 images connected by a possible theme.

Ask: Which is the odd one out? Why? There is no wrong answer here!

Detailed information about each animal/plant/fungus is provided for the teacher.

Note: If you are using these slideshows on a screen, we suggest that you download the screen version of the slideshow that has a dark background around the images. If you are printing the images to use with smaller groups, you may prefer the print version of the slideshow that has a white background. Guidance about how you might use each activity, questions to ask children, and information about the living things included, is provided within the resource.


Acknowledgements

All of the images in these resources were taken by and are ©Susanna Ramsey. We are extremely grateful to Susanna for providing these images and detailed information about the wildlife.

If you would like to see more similar wildlife images you might be interested in The Nature Collection - an extraordinary collection of animal bones, skeletons, feathers, antlers, skins and photographs that was created by Susanna Ramsey. Photographs of some of the exhibits in the collection can be found here. For activity packs and other teaching resources on local wildlife, created by The Nature Collection and TTS, visit the Resources page of the Nature Collection's website which can be found here.


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Animal Dominoes [2.25MB]

Picture dominoes for EYFS children showing 7 animals commonly seen in Britain.

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Wildlife Faces [6.46MB]

Can you match the faces?

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Who Am I? [8.55MB]

Can you guess who I am? How do you know?

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Paired Pictures - Animals [2.25MB]

Screen version

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Paired Pictures - Animals [2.25MB]

Print version

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Paired Pictures - Birds [1.68MB]

Screen version

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Paired Pictures - Birds [1.68MB]

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Paired Pictures - Plants & Fungi [3.58MB]

Screen version

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Paired Pictures - Plants & Fungi [3.58MB]

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Odd One Out - Animals & Plants [3.09MB]

Screen version

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Odd One Out - Animals & plants [3.09MB]

Print version

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FAQs

Here are some commonly asked questions about teaching science in the Early Years.

How can you teach science in mixed age classes?

Teaching any subject to a mixed year group can be challenging and it is even more so when the ages of the children cross two completely different curriculums and when that subject involves practical activities.

Here's one approach that you might like to consider:

Plan and deliver a short adult-led input with all of the children, probably no more than 10 minutes to introduce the science topic.

Plan to provide some science-related activities across the Early Years provision. For example, if the older children are learning about animals in their local environment, you might set up some of these: a sensory table with toy frogs, water, chia seeds; a construction area with twigs, leaves and moss for building a bird's nest; a malleable area with modelling clay or foil or making model animals - all of these activities can be found on PSTT's EYFS Science Provision Map Animals in my garden.

Let the younger children (ages 4-5 years) choose their activities. If you have a supporting adult in the classroom, you might want to ask them to manage/observe a particular activity and you could provide them with a list of open-ended questions to develop the children's thinking and specific science vocabulary.

Whilst the younger children carry out self-initiated activities, you can work with the older children (perhaps ages 5-7 years) and teach a science topic from their curriculum. This could include a practical investigation to develop children's science knowledge as well as their enquiry skills. You might find that some of the younger children want to join in, and why not if they are able to?!

Depending on whether you have any adult support, at some stage you may want to join the younger children for a period (so that you can 'play, observe & ask') and ask your teaching assistant to supervise the older children's activity.

Make time for a short plenary at the end of the lesson so that each group can report to the class what they did and what they found out. It is always a useful way to assess whether the children have a good understanding of the science being taught and whether any misconceptions remain.


How can I record science learning in the Early Years?

Recording learning orally

There are many ways for children in early years to record their learning. To begin with, look at opportunities where pupils can orally question, clarify, retell or recount their science learning using podcast audio apps or recording audio or video on tablets. These can be saved using QR codes to go on displays in the investigation area so the children can watch and learn from each other, or to share learning across the setting.

Mark making

Literacy and mark making in early years is important to permeate through all areas, similar to numeracy and mathematics, so having children document their learning and understanding through drawings, for example, with practitioner notation can help them to explain and clarify their thinking.

The example below shows how pupils were linking their science learning to the story Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers. They were asked to create something to float to help the characters get back home. This was an opportunity for pupils to use trial and error to investigate what might float, and the children created boats using foil. By leaving mark making materials beside the investigation area, pupils drew what they had created. This allowed practitioners to have learning conversations with the pupils about what they had created and whether they had been successful in their investigating. It also helps to clarify the children's thought processes.


Puppets or storyboards

These are a great way for pupils to retell a process and sequence what has happened. Both allow pupils to be creative in their retelling or sequencing of what they have observed and informs practitioners what has been learned and whether there are any misconceptions which need to be addressed.

In the first example (left image), pupils were tasked to help a character in a story return safely to their home. They investigated suitable materials and designed the safe way to cross the water - so needed something to float and also be waterproof. The storyboards were used to draw/show their process and the children labelled what materials were used.

In the second example (right image), pupils were learning about shadows and how shadows move through the day depending on where the light is coming from. They made shadow puppets to retell what they found out, using them as examples.








Adult observations

Practitioner observations are just as important in recording learning in science. A good observation describes the interaction that is taking place between the child and either another child or an adult. The observation doesn't need to be long, but should paint a picture of the interaction that is occurring with that child. If recording a conversation, it is also good practice for the child to finish the conversation. The adult/practitioner doesn’t have to add in an extra sentence at the end whilst recording; it must be a true reflection of what was discussed.

Floorbooks

Floorbooks are a great way to bring these examples of learning together and document the learning journey with children having ownership of the learning that they want to share. This could be through photos, drawings, quotes written on post it notes by supporting adults or pieces of work carried out. Floorbooks also allow children to revisit their previous learning at a later stage in the year and to reflect on it and evaluate their progress.

You can find out more about floorbooks and see examples of children's work recorded in floorbooks here.

What funding is available for Early Years Science?

Several organisations provide grants and funding for primary science projects. There is no reason why very young children could not take part in science projects in school. It might be worth talking to your science subject leader about applying for funding from the following organisations:

  • Royal Society Partnership Grants help schools and colleges to purchase equipment to carry out and investigate STEM research projects.
  • British Science Week is a ten-day celebration of science, technology, engineering and maths that takes place in the spring term (usually in March). Activity Packs are free to download but you can also apply for Kick Start grants to run events and activities for students at your school.
  • CREST is a a nationally recognised scheme for student-led project work in the STEM subjects. CREST grants are available to support and enable schools and organistaions to run CREST Awards with younf people underrespresentedin STEM.
  • The Ogden Trust provides funding for the teaching and learning of physics. Schools would need to become part of the Ogden Trust School Partnerships programme.
  • The Royal Society of Chemistry's Primary Science Teaching Empowerment Fund provides funds and support to organise a collaborative project or event.
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