Learning about nature and science helps children expand their vocabulary and develop a broader understanding of basic science concepts. The increase in environmental concerns makes it even more important for children to study nature and science, which is why a nature and science learning center is a must-have for early care and education environments. Including a nature and science learning center in your classroom will give children opportunities to explore the world around them through hands-on learning and will help nurture children's interest and concern for our environment now and as adults.
A nature and science center is an integral part of the preschool classroom, but setting one up and choosing the best materials for your center can be tricky, especially if you have limited space. Whether you're a new teacher planning out your first classroom space or a veteran teacher looking to revamp your classroom, here are four steps that detail how to set up a nature and science learning center that's just right for your classroom:
1. Finalize the Size and Location of Your Nature and Science Learning Center
The first step in setting up your nature and science learning center is to finalize its size and location in the classroom. You should base this decision on the overall size of the room, how many other learning centers you're planning for your classroom, the number of children in your class, and how many children you want to use the center at one time. Space for 3-4 children is a good goal to keep in mind as you plan your nature and science learning center.
You should try to locate your nature and science center near a window or a door that opens to a small nature area. Locating your center near a window means children have natural light to help them grow a variety of plants indoors. It also allows for plenty of opportunities to observe nature, weather, and seasonal changes.
When choosing the size and location of your nature and science center, you should also consider whether you want the center to be solely inside or if you have an outdoor classroom, weather station, nature area, or garden that you want to incorporate as a part of the learning center. You will need a bigger space for the center if you keep everything indoors. Adding an outdoor element to your nature and science center can be very beneficial for children, so take advantage of any nature and science learning activities that can be conducted outside.
Depending on the activity and the children stationed at the center, your nature and science learning center may get noisy. Try to place this center close to other centers that usually have a high noise level, such as the block center and the sand and water center. Check out How to Plan a Great Classroom Layout (Preschool Edition) and our MyKaplan FloorPlanner resource tool if you would like additional assistance in planning the best layout for your classroom.
2. Choose Furniture that Works Well in the Allocated Space
One or two tables and several chairs will be needed in your nature and science center to give children an appropriate workspace. You may also want to consider adding a light table to the space to help children learn about energy and light. A classroom greenhouse is another option that can aid in helping children learn about science—just be sure to leave plenty of space for any large items you want to incorporate in the center. Shelving units and other furniture options will help define the space and keep everything organized.
3. Opt for Storage Options that Help Keep Items and Materials Organized
Storage containers are a must for your nature and science center. They can help you organize science materials and keep science collections together. Labeled storage containers are also a great way to encourage students to help keep the area neat and organized. You may want to keep more expensive science materials in a locked storage cabinet or stored out of children's reach.
4. Select a Variety of Science Tools and Materials to Facilitate Learning
Your nature and science learning center should contain a variety of science tools, materials, and collections for children to explore. There are numerous materials for you to choose from, so the materials you choose for your center will really just depend on the science concepts you want to teach and your overall vision for the center. We've come up with a list of suggested science tools and materials to help you choose the best materials for your nature and science center:
Suggested Science Tools and Materials
Earth and Space - Teaching children about the earth, moon, stars, and planets will help them explore how the universe works. Help children learn about the different aspects of earth and space with fun games, models, experiments, and informative books.
Energy, Light, and Sound - Children are already fascinated with energy, light, and sound at this age, so be sure to provide a variety of materials to help them further their understanding of these concepts. Light tables, color lenses, mirrors, sound kits, solar energy kits, and flashlights are all great items you can incorporate in your nature and science center.
Health and Safety - It's never too early to start teaching children about health and safety. Models, health posters, activity kits, books, and games are all excellent resources you can use to help children learn about brushing their teeth, washing their hands, going to the doctor, exercising, and eating nutritiously.
Human Body - Understanding the basic concepts of how the human body works will enable children to take care of themselves and better explain what hurts if they fall or get sick. You can help children learn about the human body with book sets, human x-rays, anatomy models, flip charts, games, and more.
Magnets - Children will love learning about magnetism and exploring how magnets work. Be sure to include magnetic sand tables, discovery boards, magnetic wands, and a variety of other magnetic materials in your nature and science center.
Nutrition - Since childhood obesity is a major concern, nutrition should be strongly emphasized in your nutrition and science center and in other areas of your classroom. Nutrition puppet sets, plush toys, learning kits, books, posters, and pocket charts can help you teach children about healthy foods and appropriate portion sizes.
Trees and Plants - Help children learn about the environment and feel closer to nature by incorporating activities that encourage children to work with plants, observe changes in trees, and understand the true value of our environment. Gardening kits, gardening tools, root viewers, specimen sets, flower and plant models, flip charts, and informative books are all great materials you can use to further children's understanding of the environment in your nature and science center.
Weather and Climate - Teaching children about weather and climate should be an important part of your nature and science center. Help children track the weather and observe seasonal changes with weather trackers, thermometers, weather books, and other similar materials.
Answering children's questions about nature and science and helping them learn about the scientific process through hands-on activities will help them develop their critical thinking skills and encourage them to become lifelong advocates for the environment. Having a nature and science learning center in your preschool classroom can also help children build a positive relationship with science and increase their chances of entering a STEM-related career later in life. For more science tools and materials and additional science themes you can include in your nature and science center, browse our Science and Health section.