Some resources for inspiring your kids about science

These mostly cover the first four weeks of my classes on ‘Changes to the Earth’s Surface’. We get through a lot of cool stuff, as you can see.

General Science, and Evolution

“Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding” (book) by Bernie Nebel. This is the first book in a series of four, aimed at primary-aged children. I like his books and his approach to teaching science. This book is designed in four strands, roughly Chemistry, Physics, Biology and Earth and Space Science. He doesn’t shy away from exposing young children to high-level concepts, but each lesson builds on the one before and he always says what prior knowledge he expects.

I started my pre-school science classes using this book. I have deviated from his structures as I find it hard to follow anyone else’s lessons too rigidly. I also find there is too much use of ‘discussion’ pre or post the hands-on activities. But I still use many of his ideas.

Building Foundations Of Scientific Understanding

Understanding Science

Understanding Science (1)

A website created by the University of Berkeley, in California.The xenosmilus activity we did in Week 1 was recommended on this site. It has loads of resources and links. I haven’t looked at them all. However, I particularly like their ‘How Science Works’ flowchart. It has been adapted for different ages, although those with pre-readers should note that all versions of the flowchart are text-heavy. It would be good to have a purely pictoral version – maybe that’s feedback we could leave on the site.

How science works  The flowchart

I also like their notes for teachers, that are divided into different stages, and suggest what is best to focus on for different aged children, taking into consideration what they will be interested in at each level.

Understanding Science (1)

Understanding Evolution

Created by the same people as the above Understanding Science site, with some of the same links and resources, but focussed specifically on Evolution.


The Paleontology Portal.

Another wealth of information and links, although not set out as well as the above sites, and with a very North American focus.

‘Bones Rock!’, by Peter Larson and Kristin Donnan (book). Aimed at children, but packed full of information, not just about the discipline of palaeontology but also the scientific method. Printed by Invisible Cities Press, ISBN 1-931-229-35-X.

bones rock book

“Digging into Deep Time”, by Paul Willis and Abbie Thomas. Aimed at adults. Takes a small number of key Australian sites and uses them to explain the history of living creatures on Earth.

Solar System and Cosmology

George’s Secret Key to the Universe, written by Lucy and Stephen Hawking. Any child who is interested in astronomy or the solar system would do far worse than to read or to listen to this book. My boys had this as a bedtime story a few years ago and we all learned a lot about the solar system. I spotted a copy in Desire Books, Manly, our local secondhand bookshop. If you’re lucky it may still be there.


One of our families brought along the ‘Big Picture’ book by John Long to our house. This would fit into either of the Cosmology or Earth Science categories. It is a great book about the history of our universe, providing a pictorial overview of what happened when.

The Big Picture

Earth Science and Geology

As mentioned previously, Cracking Up is a great book explaining weathering and erosion.

cracking up book

Short promotional video about sand grains (for younger group)

“Earthly Treasure” by Kate Petty and Jennie Maizels is a pop-up book full of information about Earth Science and minerals. (Look out for other pop-up books by this duo on many other subjects.)

Earthly Treasure book cover

Earthly Treasure inside

Beautiful TedEd video with pop-up book to explain Pangaea and movement of the Earth’s tectonic plates.

What is a volcano? Also briefly includes plate boundaries.

Underwater volcanic eruption

Extreme weather

The Hottest Place on Earth from MinuteEarth.

Note: Many of these videos were first found on The Kid Should See This, which is a great blog for children who learn well from videos. I have given up following the blog myself, because there are just too many videos posted for me to keep up, but I still use it to search for specific videos from time-to-time.

Volcanic eruptions and rock formation

We started off our third Marrickville science session by watching a short animation from the BBC about the structure of the Earth and how this relates to volcanoes. The children were not all paying attention at this point, but the YouTube clips of volcanoes went down well and prompted some discussion. We talked about different types of eruption and how hot the lava gets.


Essentially, volcanoes (and earthquakes) occur near the edges of continental plates. New rocks are formed when magma cools. Even with the same minerals in the magma, the rocks that form may look very different depending on how they have formed. If the magma cools slowly you can get very large crystals forming in the rock. In general, the faster the cooling, the smaller the crystals. (This is something that you can test out yourself with more crystal growing experiments. I will try to post some more instructions in the next week.)

If magma cools really quickly you get obsidian, which is one of the rocks featured in Minecraft and which is also actually a glass. In a glass the particles are not held together in regular repeated units, but in varying orientations relative to each other.

There is also pumice, which is quite a unique rock that actually floats in water. This contains many holes (it is porous) due to the gases from the volcanic eruption.

My middle son remembered a game he’d played with a friend where you can vary the conditions of a volcano to see what kind of eruption you can get. One of the other mums found the link, and I’d encourage everyone to have a go at this:

Discovery Kids Volcano Explorer

I had planned to split the group into younger and older children but they all wanted to come out into the garden together. We put out some different rocks on the table and tried to identify which were igneous (formed from magma), sedimentary or metamorphic. I hadn’t really talked about the other two types of rock but we had a few pictures of the rock cycle and an A4 page with some descriptions and pictures of typical rocks to help us. I can e-mail copies of these to anyone interested. The New Zealand website Science Kids has some information and pictures. You might also like to look at Rock HoundsKids Love Rocks or The last one is more wordy.

We had samples of pumice, granite, basalt, sandstone, limestone (with fossil crinoids), mica schist and several that I hadn’t been able to identify myself! You can find pictures of all these rocks on, and crinoids are explained here with loads of good pictures. (If you do an internet search for Australian crinoids you can find out about ones that are still alive today.)

Personally, I find the metamorphic rocks the hardest to identify. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between them and igneous rocks that have very small particle size. Hand lenses (magnifying glasses) can help but in some rocks, the crystals can only be seen with a microscope.

I had brought along some colouring sheets for the younger children but by this point they were all more interested in playing in the garden.

A couple of them, however, were enticed back when I produced an obsidian spearhead. They then wrote down a list of all the rocks in Minecraft and identified that all but about two existed in real life.

Next time we plan to make fake ‘fossils’ from modelling clay and plaster of Paris. We will also look at chocolate versions of the rocks we were looking at in the last session. I found a good rock identification game on which I suggested my students tried out in preparation for the next class. (Watch out for the typo where they wrote calcium instead of carbon!)

We might also try making sugar crystals and honeycomb. It won’t be a good day for our teeth but I hope it will be a fun way to end the classes.