Young children learn science best by living and exploring the world around them. Come and get some great resources, tips, and ideas for teaching elementary-aged children science and discovery.
Elementary Science Teaching Tips & Ideas
How I Teach a Large Family in a Relaxed, Classical Way: Science
Family style learning is a great way to tackle lots of different subjects, including science.
Things to See & Do in California
Golden Gate National Recreation Area
The Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) is one of the largest urban national parks in the world. GGNRA’s 75,398 acres of land and water extend north of the Golden Gate Bridge to Tomales Bay in Marin County and south to San Mateo County, encompassing 59 miles of bay and ocean shoreline. The park contains numerous historical and cultural resources, including Alcatraz, Marin Headlands, Nike Missile Site, Fort Mason, as well as Muir Woods National Monument, Fort Point National Historic Site, and the Presidio of San Francisco. These sites contain a variety of archeological sites, military forts and other historic structures which present a rich chronicle of two hundred years of history, including Native American culture, the Spanish Empire frontier, the Mexican Republic, evolution of American coastal fortifications, maritime history, 18th century and early 20th century agriculture, military history, California Gold Rush, Buffalo Soldiers, and the growth of urban San Francisco. Golden Gate National Recreation Area is also rich in natural resources—it is comprised of 19 separate ecosystems in 7 distinct watersheds and is home to 1,273 plant and animal species. With 80 sensitive, rare, threatened, or endangered species —including the Northern Spotted Owl, California Red-legged Frog, and Coho Salmon— the park has the fourth largest number (33) of federally protected or endangered species of all units in the National Park System.
At the Steinhart Aquarium, located in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, you can view poison dart frogs, box turtles, sea horses, and clown fish in jewel tanks. Get an up-close look at sturgeon, giant sea bass, alligator snapping turtles, gars, and moray eels. Touch sea stars, bat rays, hermit crabs, at the touch tide pool. Don’t miss penguin feedings which happen every day Interact with aquatic biologists as they study, feed, and care for the animals.
Monterey Bay Aquarium
The Monterey Bay Aquarium features over 550 different species of marine life and numerous special exhibits, including the Splash Zone family exhibit. The Aquarium's website offers facts and information about sea life, including several life webcams of specific exhibits in the facility.
Charles Paddock Zoo
At the Charles Paddock Zoo in Atascarero you will discover over 100 animals in five park-like acres. You will be able to view the animals up close in naturalistic habitats.
Chaffee Zoological Gardens of Fresno
Chaffee Zoological Gardens is home to the world's first computerized Reptile House, a South American Tropical Rain Forest Exhibit, and numerous animals.
San Diego Zoo
The San Diego Zoo is home to more than 4,000 rare and endangered animals representing more than 800 species and subspecies. Newest exhibits include: Absolutely Apes, the Giant Panda Research Station, and Gorilla Tropics.
Santa Barbara Zoological Gardens
The Santa Barbara Zoological Gardens is located on over 30 acres overlooking East beach. In addition to over 600 animals, the Zoo offers the Gift Store, a Dentzel family enclosed carousel and two C.P. Huntington trains to complete your visit.
Aquarium of the Bay
The Aquarium of the Bay in San Francisco features two 300 feet crystal clear tunnels, 700,000 gallons of filtered Bay water and more than 23,000 aquatic animals. Also includes touch pools.
California Science Center
The California Science Center offers fun and informative permanent exhibits presented in interactive worlds. Through hands-on experiences, you'll learn about human inventions and innovations, the life processes of living things and more. Includes an IMAX theater, Air & Space Gallery, and special exhibits. Admission to the permanent exhibits is free. Located in Exposition Park in Los Angeles.
SeaWorld San Diego
Located on 189.5 acres, SeaWorld San Diego offers marine animal attractions, educational performances, specialty tours, rides, and more.
Nestled on 400 acres in the heart of California's wine country 65 miles north of San Francisco, Safari West is home for over 400 exotic mammals and birds. Not a zoo, not a drive-through park, it's a wildlife preserve where the whole family can experience some of nature's most beautiful animals in a natural habitat.
Happy Hollow Zoo
Located in Kelley Park, Happy Hollow Park & Zoo is a peaceful, creative and safe place for children of all ages, with the main focus on "little ones" between the ages of 2-10. There are creative play areas, children's rides, hand puppet and marionette shows, special events, and birthday areas. It also gives hands on experience with many animals and the education that is needed to secure the future of endangered species. The petting zoo features llamas, goats, guinea pigs and miniature horses.
Cabrillo Marine Aquarium
Located in San Pedro between Point Fermin and the Port of Los Angeles, the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium features a touch tank, marine animal exhibits, and special events.
Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
Santa Monica Mountains rise above Los Angeles, widen to meet the curve of Santa Monica Bay and reach their highest peaks facing the ocean, forming a beautiful and multi-faceted landscape. Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is a cooperative effort that joins federal, state and local park agencies with private preserves and landowners to protect the natural and cultural resources of this transverse mountain range and seashore. Located in a Mediterranean ecosystem, the Santa Monica Mountains contain a wide variety of plants and wildlife. The mountains also have an interesting and diverse cultural history which begins with the Chumash and Gabrielino/Tongva peoples and continues today in "L.A.'s backyard."
Redwood National and State Parks
Redwood National and State Parks are home to some of the world's tallest trees: old-growth coast redwoods. They can live to be 2000 years old and grow to over 300 feet tall. Spruce, hemlock, Douglas-fir, berry bushes, and sword ferns create a multiple canopied understory that towers over all visitors. The parks' mosaic of habitats include prairie/oak woodlands, mighty rivers and streams, and 37 miles of pristine Pacific coastline. Cultural landscapes reflect American Indian history. The more recent logging history has led to much restoration of these parks.
Muir Woods National Monument
Until the 1800's, many northern California coastal valleys were covered with coast redwood trees similar to those now found in Muir Woods National Monument. The forest along Redwood Creek in today's Muir Woods was spared from logging because it was hard to get to. Noting that Redwood Creek contained one of the San Francisco Bay Area's last uncut stands of old-growth redwood, Congressman William Kent and his wife, Elizabeth Thacher Kent, bought 295 acres here for $45,000 in 1905. To protect the redwoods the Kents donated the land to the United States Federal Government and, in 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt declared it a national monument. Roosevelt suggested naming the area after Kent, but Kent wanted it named for conservationist John Muir. Muir Woods is located 12 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge.
San Francisco Zoological Gardens
The San Francisco Zoo is home to over 250 species of exotic and domestic mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates.
Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institute of Oceanography
Set against a breathtaking view of the Pacific Ocean, the Birch Aquarium at Scripps is home to more than 350 species of marine life found in waters from the cold Pacific Northwest to the warm tropical reefs of the South Pacific. Forty-six tanks range in size from a 70,000-gallon re-created kelp forest to small nursery tanks. The aquarium also features a man-made tide pool that stimulates an awareness in visitors of the fragility of San Diego's intertidal environments.
Beneath Lassen Volcanic's peaceful forests and gem-like lakes lies evidence of a turbulent and fiery past. 600,000 years ago, the collision and warping of continental plates led to violent eruptions and the formation of lofty Mt. Tehama (also called Brokeoff Volcano.) After 200,000 years of volcanic activity, vents and smaller volcanoes on Tehama's flanks-including Lassen Peak-drew magma away from the main cone. Hydrothermal areas ate away at the great mountain's bulk. Beneath the onslaught of Ice Age glaciers, Mt. Tehama crumbled and finally ceased to exist. But the volcanic landscape lived on: in 1914, Lassen Peak awoke. The Peak had its most significant activity in 1915 and minor activity through 1921. Lassen Volcanic became a national park in 1916 because of its significance as an active volcanic landscape. All four types of volcanoes in the world are found in the park. Over 150 miles of trails and a culturally significant scenic highway provide access to volcanic wonders including steam vents, mudpots, boiling pools, volcanic peaks, and painted dunes. The park is located in Mineral, California.
Whiskeytown National Recreation Area
The Whiskeytown Unit, with its mountainous back country and large, man-made reservoir, offers many summer activities such as hiking and boating, as well as historical remains of the California Gold Rush of 1849. Whiskeytown Lake, provides 36 miles of shoreline and 3200 surface acres of water, and is excellent for most water-related activities, including swimming, scuba diving, water skiing, boating and fishing. The lake was created by diverting water through tunnels and penstocks, from the Trinity River Basin to the Sacramento River Basin. The most prominent landmark within the Recreation Area is Shasta Bally (elevation 6,209 feet). The summit may be reached on foot and by 4-wheel drive vehicle, but is closed in the winter.
This 1,200 acre facility specializes in plants and animals found throughout the deserts of the world. Many exotic and endangered species can be seen in natural surroundings such as bighorn sheep, oryx, wolves, striped hyenas, thick-billed parrots, leopards and golden eagles. The ten ecosystems of the North American deserts are represented in the immersion gardens. A state-of-the-art wildlife hospital allows visitors to interact with the staff while procedures are being performed on animals. A desert children's play park, live animal shows, Discovery Room and many other features can be found in this unique zoo which sits in the middle of the Coachella Valley, just 15 miles east of Palm Springs.
Channel Islands National Park
Comprised of five in a chain of eight southern California islands near Los Angeles, Channel Islands National Park is home to a wide variety of nationally and internationally significant natural and cultural resources. Over 2,000 species of plants and animals can be found within the park. However only four mammals are endemic to the islands. One hundred and forty-five of these species are unique to the islands and found nowhere else in the world. Marine life ranges from microscopic plankton to the endangered blue whale, the largest animal to live on earth. Archeological and cultural resources span a period of more than 10,000 years. The park consists of 249,354 acres, half of which are under the ocean, and include the islands of San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, Anacapa, and Santa Barbara. Even though the islands seem tantalizingly close to the densely populated, southern California coast, their isolation has left them relatively undeveloped, making them an exciting place for visitors to explore.
Santa Ana Zoo
The Santa Ana Zoo occupies 20 acres featuring at least fifty monkeys at all times, a rain forest, endangered species, an aviary, a steam train and children's zoo right in the middle of the Orange County urban jungle. The Zoo also offers educational programs.
Lava Beds National Monument
Volcanic eruptions on the Medicine Lake shield volcano have created an incredibly rugged landscape punctuated by cinder cones, lava flows, spatter cones, lava tube caves and pit craters. During the Modoc War of 1872-1873, the Modoc Indians used these tortuous lava flows to their advantage. Under the leadership of Captain Jack, the Modocs took refuge in "Captain Jack's Stronghold," a natural lava fortress. From this base a group of 53 fighting men and their families held off US Army forces numbering up to ten times their strength for five months. Visitors can tour both the geologic and historic wonders of this unusual landscape. The Lava Beds are located in Tulelake, California.
Death Valley National Park
Death Valley is a land of extremes. It is one of the hottest places on the surface of the Earth with summer temperatures averaging well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It encompasses the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere at 282 feet below the level of the sea, and it is the driest place in North America with an average rainfall of only 1.96 inches a year. This valley is also a land of subtle beauties: Morning light creeping across the eroded badlands of Zabriskie Point to strike Manly Beacon, the setting sun and lengthening shadows on the Sand Dunes at Stovepipe Wells, and the colors of myriad wildflowers on the golden hills above Harmony Borax on a warm spring day. Death Valley is a treasure trove of scientific information about the ancient Earth and about the forces still working to shape our modern world. It is home to plants, animals, and human beings that have adapted themselves to take advantage of its rare and hard won bounty. It is a story of western expansion, wealth, greed, suffering and triumph. Death Valley is a land of extremes, and much more.
Sequoia Park Zoo
The Sequoia Park Zoo is located in Eureka and is situated on approximately 5 acres of level terrain northeast of the redwood ravines of Sequoia Park. The forest provides an impressive backdrop to the animal enclosures and blends directly into the hoofed animal paddocks. The Zoo is home for nearly one hundred animals. Admission is free.
Homeschool Outdoor Science School at Mount Hermon
Enjoy a week of Christian Outdoor Science School at Mount Hermon, a beautiful camp and conference center located in the redwoods near Santa Cruz.
The Oakland Zoo is nestled in the rolling hills of 525-acre Knowland Park. Each year thousands of families and school groups from around the Bay Area come to visit 440 native and exotic animals that live in naturalistic habitats at the Zoo.
Six Flags Marine World
Located in Vallejo, this commercial theme park also offers marine animal attractions and educational performances, along with rides and other attractions.
Coyote Point Museum
The Coyote Point Museum for Environmental Education in San Mateo offers a 4,000 square foot walk-through Aviary, a honeybee exhibit, river otters, and much more.
Underground Adventures in California - Cavern Tours
Sierra Nevada Recreation Corporation runs five "underground adventure" locations: Black Chasm, National Natural Landmark; Boyden Cavern, California Cavern, State Historic Landmark; Moaning Cavern, and Sutter Gold Mine Tours. Guided tours are offered at each location and picnic tables provided for to enjoy their meals or snacks in the scenic beauty of the properties. Two of the locations offer challenging adventure activities: Moaning Cavern has the Rappel and Adventure Trip and California Cavern has the Mammoth Cave and Middle Earth Expeditions. In addition, we have added above ground Gemstone Mining at all of our properties in the Gold Country and free sign-posted nature trails at California Cavern and Moaning Cavern. Visitors to Black Chasm can ask for a map to take the free nature hike. Sutter Gold Mine also offers free movies in the Gold Theatre on the history of gold mining and above ground gold panning.
Devils Postpile National Monument
Established in 1911 by presidential proclamation, Devils Postpile National Monument protects and preserves the Devils Postpile formation, the 101-foot Rainbow Falls, and the pristine mountain scenery. The Devils Postpile formation is a rare sight in the geologic world and ranks as one of the world’s finest examples of columnar basalt. Its columns tower 60-feet high and display an unusual symmetry. Another wonder is in store just downstream from the Postpile at Rainbow Falls, once called “a gem unique and worthy of its name”. When the sun is overhead, a bright rainbow highlights the spectacular Falls. The monument is also a portal to the High Sierra backcountry, with some 75% included in the Ansel Adams Wilderness. At 800 acres, Devils Postpile National Monument may be considered small by some, yet its natural and recreational values abound. The Monument is located in the Sierra Nevada near Mammoth Lakes.
Los Angeles Zoo
The Los Angeles Zoo houses a collection of 1,200 animals from around the world.
San Diego Wild Animal Park
The San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park is an expansive wildlife sanctuary operated by the Zoological Society of San Diego. Many of the earth's most rare creatures roam in herds and flocks in vast enclosures resembling their native homelands. It's home to more than 3,500 animals representing 429 species, including the largest crash of rhinos in any zoological facility, and one of the only California condor exhibits in the world. More than half of the acreage of the Wild Animal Park has been set aside as native species habitat. In addition, the Park maintains a native plant seed bank and extensive gardens.
Joshua Tree National Park
Two deserts, two large ecosystems whose characteristics are determined primarily by elevation, come together at Joshua Tree National Park. Below 3,000 feet, the Colorado Desert encompasses the eastern part of the park and features natural gardens of creosote bush, ocotillo, and cholla cactus. The higher, moister, and slightly cooler Mojave Desert is the special habitat of the Joshua tree. In addition to Joshua tree forests, the western part of the park also includes some of the most interesting geologic displays found in California’s deserts. Five fan palm oases also dot the park, indicating those few areas where water occurs naturally and wildlife abounds. Joshua Tree National Park lies 140 miles east of Los Angeles.
Pretend City Children's Museum
Pretend City Children’s Museum features a small, interconnected city designed to “build better brains” through purposeful play, hands-on learning experiences, role playing, and educational programming. They offer homeschool days on the 3rd Friday of each month.
Mojave National Preserve
Rose-colored sand dunes, volcanic cinder cones, Joshua tree forests, and mile-high mountains are all part of the scene at Mojave National Preserve. Located in the heart of the Mojave Desert, the Preserve encompasses 1.6 million acres of mountains, jumble rocks, desert washes, and dry lakes. Plant and animal life varies by elevation. Desert tortoises burrow in creosote bush flats, while the black and yellow Scott’s oriole nests in Joshua trees higher up the slopes. Mule deer and bighorn sheep roam among pinyon pine and juniper in the Preserve’s many mountain ranges. Mojave Desert experiences change with the seasons. Infrequent winter snows sparkle on the mountains. With enough moisture, spring wildflowers carpet the desert with vivid colors. Summers are hot; hikers and campers explore the higher elevations such as Mid-Hills and the New York Mountains. The cooler temperatures of fall mark hunting season. A network of dirt roads offer year round opportunities to explore by 4-wheel drive vehicle.
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park embraces a spectacular tract of mountain-and-valley scenery in the Sierra Nevada, which was set aside as a national park in 1890. The park harbors a grand collection of waterfalls, meadows, and forests that include groves of giant sequoias, the world's largest living things. Highlights of the park include Yosemite Valley, and its high cliffs and waterfalls; Wawona's history center and historic hotel; the Mariposa Grove, which contains hundreds of ancient giant sequoias; Glacier Point's (summer-fall) spectacular view of Yosemite Valley and the high country; Tuolumne Meadows (summer-fall), a large subalpine meadow surrounded by mountain peaks; and Hetch Hetchy, a reservoir in a valley considered a twin of Yosemite Valley.
Micke Grove Zoo
Located in Lodi in San Joaquin County, Micke Grove Zoo features native animals and exotic species from all over the world, including several endangered species, such as the Chinese Alligator, the Snow Leopard and the Cotton Top Tamarin. Exhibits include the Tropical Forest Canopy with its Rodrigues Fruit Bats, Paseo Pantera – Path of the Mountain Lion and the Island Lost In Time featuring lemurs, parrots and radiated tortoises from Madagascar.
Aquarium of the Pacific
Experience the world’s largest and most diverse body of water at the Aquarium of the Pacific, the fifth largest U.S. aquarium and home to over 12,000 ocean animals representing over 550 species. Located in the beautiful Rainbow Harbor in Long Beach, Calif., the Aquarium of the Pacific takes visitors on a journey through three regions of the Pacific Ocean, exploring the waters of Southern California/Baja, Northern Pacific and the Tropical Pacific through 18 major habitats and 31 focus exhibits.
Learn about animals and their habitats at the Sacramento Zoo, featuring animals exhibits, educational programs, and special events.
Gibbon Conservation Center
Located in Santa Clarita, the Gibbon Conservation Center is the only facility in the world devoted exclusively to gibbons, an increasingly rare ape. GCC houses nearly 40 gibbons, among them 5 of the 13 living species. Offers educational tours.
Point Reyes National Seashore
Point Reyes National Seashore contains unique elements of biological and historical interest in a spectacularly scenic panorama of thunderous ocean breakers, open grasslands, bushy hillsides and forested ridges. Native land mammals number about 37 species and marine mammals augment this total by another dozen species. The biological diversity stems from a favorable location in the middle of California and the natural occurrence of many distinct habitats. Nearly 20% of the State's flowering plant species are represented on the peninsula and over 45% of the bird species in North America have been sighted. Point Reyes is located approximately 35 miles north of San Francisco.
Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks
These parks are home to giants: immense mountains, deep canyons, and huge trees. Thanks to their huge elevational range, 1,500' to 14,491', these parks protect stunningly diverse habitats. The Generals Highway climbs over 5000 feet from chaparral and oak-studded foothills to the awe-inspiring sequoia groves. From there, trails lead to the high-alpine wilderness which makes up most of these parks. Beneath the surface lie over 200 fascinating caverns. The parks are located in the southern Sierra Nevada in Tulare and Fresno counties.
Pinnacles National Monument
Rising out of the chaparral-covered Gabilan Mountains, east of central California's Salinas Valley, are the spectacular remains of an ancient volcano. Massive monoliths, spires, sheer-walled canyons and talus passages define millions of years of erosion, faulting and tectonic plate movement. Within the monument's boundaries lie 24,000 acres of diverse wildlands. The monument is renowned for the beauty and variety of its spring wildflowers. A rich diversity of wildlife can be observed throughout the year. The rock formations of Pinnacles National Monument divide the park into East and West Districts which are connected by trails, but not by a vehicle road. More than 30 miles of trails access geological formations, spectacular vistas and wildland communities. The Pinnacles' rock formations are a popular destination to challenge technical climbers. Pinnacles is a day-use park, with occasional full moon hikes and dark sky astronomical observations led by ranger-interpreters.
Elementary Science Activities & Experiments
Arbor Day National Poster Contest
Join over 74,000 fifth grade classrooms and home schools across America in the Arbor Day National Poster Contest. The theme chosen will increase your students’ knowledge of how trees produce and conserve energy. The free Activity Guide includes activities to use with fifth grade students to teach the importance of trees in producing and conserving energy. These activities correlate with National Science and Social Study Standards. The Guide also includes all of the information you need for poster contest participation.
ExploraVision is a competition for all students in grades K-12 attending a school in the U.S., Canada, U.S. Territory or a Department of Defense school. Homeschooled students are eligible to enter. It is designed to encourage students to combine their imagination with their knowledge of science and technology to explore visions of the future. Teams of students select a technology, research how it works and why it was invented, and then project how that technology may change in the future. They must then identify what breakthroughs are required for their vision to become a reality and describe the positive and negative consequences of their technology on society. Winning ideas have focused on things as simple as ballpoint pens and as complex as satellite communications. The student teams write a paper and draw a series of Web page graphics to describe their idea. Regional winners make a Web site and a prototype of their future vision.
Elementary Science Curriculum
Christian Kids Explore Chemistry
These user-friendly, unabashedly Christian, one-year science curriculums for elementary students include teaching lessons, coloring pages, hands-on time, memorization lists, review sheets, creative writing assignments, and a supplemental book list. The Chemistry text is intended for grades 4-8, and includes such hands-on activities as making model atoms, breaking covalent bonds, and making gas expand. It also lists chemistry terms, notations, and rules. The conversational style gives students the basic information they need, making this an ideal first course in life science, especially useful for those following a classical approach.
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