Make it stick

8th February 2008 at 00:00
A caterpillar corner and a dark den help Lucy Blackburn turn out enthusiastic scientists.


It can be a challenge to make science accessible to five to seven-year-olds. However, using a variety of everyday situations and simple tools can illuminate the subject without turning off pupils.

I find creating areas of provision with a science focus a useful teaching tool in key stage 1. You can vary the resources used in the areas according to the learning objective taught that week.

You may find placing resources in the role-play area before your lesson allows the children to explore a concept through play in advance. Or you may want to place resources during the lesson so that the children can go on to use and apply their new-found knowledge correctly.

In the Year 1 topic Ourselves, I find a hospital role-play area really beneficial. The children regularly use key vocabulary, such as for body and face parts.

On the doctors' notes, make sure you have a space for eye and hair colour to enforce the learning objective, which underlines how humans are different. Provide resources for children to act out different ages, such as a walking stick for elders and a doll for a baby.

I also have a "caterpillar table" where we keep caterpillars and can watch their lifecycle closely. The caterpillars and food come cheaply through the post in a little tub ( is worth a visit). The children love watching them growing, and seeing them attach themselves to a paper film at the top of the tub.

You then move the paper film with attached chrysalises into the butterfly net and wait for them to change to butterflies. It takes about five to six weeks for the whole process. The children know the lifecycle of caterpillars off by heart by the end of the topic.

I take pictures at every stage then use them in a non-fiction literacy lesson. We also work with The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle in a narrative unit. It ties in with numeracy: learning the days of the week, measuring the length of different caterpillars, ordering and sequencing events in time and ordering numbers on caterpillar shapes. We also make caterpillar sock puppets in art.

My friend Gillian, another Year 1 teacher, suggested creating a dark area where the children can experiment with different lights and reflective materials for the Year 1 topic Light and Dark. Every classroom layout is different, but I find turning two sets of drawers back to back and attaching a big piece of black material between them creates my dark den.

For safety reasons, the children lie on their backs and place only their head and shoulders under the material. I attach an array of reflective material inside the den and provide a variety of torches for the children to take in with them. Make sure you have durable torches, because more expensive delicate ones will simply break.

If you make cards with bright, brighter, brightest and dark, darker, darkest, the children can sort the light sources according to their strength. You can carry out a whole-class experiment to compare the brightness of different light sources.

You can use a variety of different torches, and the reflective materials can be anything shiny, such as sweet wrappers, tinsel or glitter.

Instead of recording the results on paper, my low-ability children place the word cards next to the light sources and photograph it for evidence.

A "science table" is useful too. For sound and hearing, a table with musical instruments and a tape machine with headphones can be easily put together. For the topic Push and Pull, you can change this table by providing push cars and a ramp to experiment with. Put a waterwheel and some sailing boats in the water tray, which allows the children to explore pushes of water and air. In Growing Plants, a science table can display the seeds sown under different conditions.

Areas of provision in science don't mean more work. By displaying the key vocabulary, providing a variety of resources at appropriate times, and incorporating the subject into your lessons, the children can play and learn about science and become better scientists without even realising it.

Lucy Blackburn teaches at Holy Family Catholic Primary in Wortley, Leeds.

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