Science through play

Science can be intimidating, but it needn’t be. We can use everyday experiences and observations to help children fall in love with the subject.

Science is all around us

Science is everywhere, it’s all around us. Let’s concentrate on the five basic senses, sight, smell, hearing, touch, and taste, and the awakening and the honing of them, through nature.


Seeing and recognising different colours and shapes is, for the sighted, our first sensory input. Spending time in your garden or neighbourhood, as the seasons change, can be a feast for the eyes and a good learning experience if harnessed correctly.

Imagine the wonder in a child’s eyes when they see their
first rainbow and they can identify the differently coloured bands – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet – or when they appreciate the spectacle of colour in the bird of paradise flower, or the burst of yellow and orangey-reds when the red hot pokers of the aloe plants arrive in the colder months.

Yellowey-orangey aloes
Image by Fatima Khan

Wake them early enough to witness the sky bloom into a glorious sunrise and then end the day by watching the bright colours of the day transform into a vibrant sunset and settle into the mystery of the twilight hour. Take them outside at night, to marvel at the stars, and the waxing and the waning of the moon throughout the lunar month.


Stopping every so often to take the time to ‘smell the roses’ (or the mint, jasmine, lightly rubbed lemon leaf), can help budding scientists to understand the principles of smell.

Make the time to smell the jasmine
Image by Fatima Khan

Take the extra few minutes, while cooking or baking to hold a cinnamon stick, a piece of fresh ginger, smelly garlic, zesty lemon slices, or comforting vanilla pod close to a child’s nose so that they begin to hone their sense of smell, a trait so very useful in the chemistry laboratory.


Take a moment to listen to the birds singing, or the waves crashing onto the shore, the sound of thunder (preceded by the flash of lightning), the subdued roar of a waterfall, the gentle babble of water over rocks, or appreciate the silence of a quiet, secluded sanctuary, and listen to the sounds of the crickets chirping or the frogs croaking and the buzz of hungry mosquitoes.

Croaking frogs in the early evening
Audio by Fatima Khan


Expose children to a wide range of textures, rough wood bark, soft suede-like moss, prickly aloe, playful touch-me-not plants, thorny cactus plants, velvety rose petals.

Let them pick out the stones from, and dig through, warm, moist and crumbly soil, and discover the ‘shongololo’ (millipede) or the gentle
ticklish feeling of a ladybird.

The ticklish feel of a ladybird
Image by Fatima Khan

Take them to the beach to enjoy the exfoliating sensation of sea sand and
crushed sea shells. After a light rainfall, go out into your garden and marvel at the changes a little rain can make to the plants, and the spiders’ webs, and the grass, and search for the newly emerged mushrooms (be sure they don’t eat them).

Mushroom growing on tree bark
Image by Fatima Khan


Give the children the experience of eating fresh fruit and vegetables, meat and poultry and seafood (dietary restrictions allowing); to revel in the riot of colours and shapes and textures and the six basic tastes, sweet, sour, salty, bitter, umami, and ‘fatty’.

A smorgasbord of flavour to delight the senses
Image by Fatima Khan

Make it fun

Make it fun, and keep exposing them repeatedly to sensory inputs because it is the repetition of an experience that ensures that the lessons are learnt well and embedded into our subconscious, to be retrieved later, when needed. Even the momentous occasion of losing the first tooth can be used as a learning experience.

Let them experience the wonders of science in your kitchens, your gardens, your immediate locality, and then take them further to experience some of the world.

Busy buzzing bee
Video by Fatima Khan


Or, as one of our foremost scientists, Richard Dawkins, states in his life memoir, An appetite for Wonder, The making of a scientist,–

“…none of us will
have forgotten that lesson. What matters is not the facts but how you discover and think about them:
education in the true sense, very different from today’s assessment-mad exam culture.”

This piece first appeared on the Creatubbles website in 2016.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Safrea or its members.

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