Nursery rhymes are a great tool for teaching language, rhythm and music, but their familiar words and characters can also be used to inspire your preschooler in the world of science -- teaching him about how things grow, what happens in different temperatures and the wonder of nature.
Mary, Mary Quite Contrary
Use the nursery rhyme Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary to inspire some growing projects. Explain to your preschooler how plants grow from seeds and, if possible, find some pictures of the different stages of plant growth to look at. You can also look at flowers through a magnifying glass together, pointing out the petals, stem and leaves. Plant some flower seeds, like those from the rhyme, and talk about how long they will take to grow and how they will need watering. Your preschooler may grow impatient waiting for the flowers to grow, so cut up a picture of a flower into several pieces and challenge her to put it back together again -- this flower will "grow" a lot quicker than the real ones!
Make a wall using a small cardboard box and let your preschooler conduct his own experiment to see what happens when different objects "fall" off it. Be brave and let him use a real egg first, asking him: "What do you think will happen to it?" Follow the egg with a bouncy ball, a ball of cotton, a tomato, a piece of cooked potato and a hard-boiled egg.
Itsy Bitsy Spider
Spiders work well as an introduction to the insect world, with their eight legs and fascinating webs. Help your preschooler create an Itsy Bitsy Spider from the rhyme by painting the cup of a cardboard egg carton black and sticking on googly eyes or homemade paper eyes. Push four chenille stems through one side of the cup and out of the other side to make eight legs -- it is easier if you make the holes first. Science discussions might include topics such as, "What would it be like to walk on eight legs?" or "How do you think the spider makes its web?" Make a web using a paper plate with about eight slits spaced around the outside. Have your toddler wind wool or yarn around the plate using the slits to hold it in place and talk about how the clever spider makes a web to catch his dinner.
Pat a Cake
Pat a Cake, Pat a Cake, Baker's Man is a nursery rhyme with a science lesson built in. As you and your preschooler bake a cake together, you can discuss the different temperatures of the refrigerator and the oven, where all the ingredients come from, how the ingredients change when she mixes them together and how the mixture changes when it cooks. Put small samples of sugar, flour and butter in bowls for her to feel and taste and then ask her: "What does the flour taste like?" "What does the butter feel like" And of course later, "What does our cake taste like?"