I have yet to find any “science kits” that actually teach science–most are just science-themed toys. There’s nothing wrong with that, but don’t expect your kid to re-derive the principles of chemistry via a baking soda volcano.
Smaller kids aren’t ready for the kind of thinking required for actual scientific research, but they can still learn plenty of science the mundane way: by reading. So here are some of our favorite science books/activities:
We did geology over the winter, centered around Rocks, Rivers, and the Changing Earth. It’s a lovely book (reading level about second grade?) with instructions for many simple experiments (eg, put rocks, sand, water in a glass jar and carefully shake/swirl to observe the effects of different water speeds on riverbanks) and handily complements any nature walks, rock collecting trip, or expeditions to the seashore.
WARNING: This book was published before plate tectonics became widely accepted and so has a confused chapter or two on how mountains form. SKIP THIS CHAPTER.
We also tried making polished stones in a rock tumbler (verdict: not worth the cost.)
After geology, we transitioned to geography with A Child’s Introduction to the World: Geography, Cultures and People–from the Grand Canyon to the Great Wall of China. I admit that geography sounds more like social studies than science, but it flows so perfectly from our understanding of geology that I have to mention it here.
I like to read this with a globe and children’s atlas at hand, so I can easily demonstrate things like latitude and longitude, distances, and different map projections.
With spring’s arrival we also began a study of plants and insects.
If you’ve never started your own plants from seed, any common crop seeds sold at the store–beans, peas, corn, squash, and most flowers–will sprout quickly and easily. If you want to keep your plants indoors, I recommend you get a bag of dirt at the garden center. This dirt is supposed to be “clean”; the dirt found outside in your yard is full of bugs that you probably weren’t intending on studying in your living room.
Speaking of bugs, we bought the “raise your own ladybugs” and butterflies kits, but I don’t recommend these as real caterpillars are nowhere near as cute and interesting as the very hungry one in the story. I think you’re better off just collecting ladybugs in the wild and reading about them at home.
Super Science: Matter Matters is a fabulous pop-up/lift-the-flap book about chemistry. We were very lucky to receive this as a birthday gift. (Birthday hint: the homeschooling families in your life would always like more books.) The book is a little fragile, so not appropriate for younger children who might pull too hard on the tabs, but great for everyone else.
Magic Schoolbus anything. There are probably several hundred books in this series by now. Who Was Albert Einstein? We finished our math biographies, so on to science bios. Basher Science: Astronomy This is cute, and there are a bunch in the series. I’m looking forward to the rest. Professor Astro Cat‘s Atomic Adventure (also, Space!)