Science Activities for Young Children - States of Matter Unit

My youngest daughter discovering the power of gaseous matter.
My youngest daughter discovering the power of gaseous matter. | Source

One of the basics of science that will be necessary for most all later studies is a knowledge of the states of matter. If you avoid the higher states that are used in more advanced science this is something that can easily be introduced and understood by young children. Moreover your child will enjoy seeing how the states of mater change.

Overview of the States of Matter

Begin with a basic overview. Don't stress about your child understanding everything after the initial lesson. Your goal for this lesson is just to introduce the terms and ideas, which you will expand upon in the later lessons.

Just tell your child that matter can exists in different states. Most of what we interact with are solids. When you add energy (often in the form of heat) the matter will change to liquid. Liquid must be contained in a container. Add energy to liquid and it becomes a gas, which we can not see.

Read the first pages through eight of What Is the World Made Of? by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld. It is a "Let's Read and Find Out Science" stage 2 book and provides an excellent child level explanation of matter.

Solid Matter Experiment

Solids are the least energetic of the states of matter. Solids retain their shape with or without a container. Objects will become solid if energy is removed. In this experiment we will remove the energy by cooling.

Allow your child to place water in a small container and place it in the freezer. Have her check on the water every hour until it freezes. Reiterate that the water froze because you removed energy from the liquid causing it to revert to its solid state.

Different Types of Matter

Remind your child that everything is made of matter. Then talk to your child about the different kinds of matter. Read your science book together to page 14 for a good description of each state of matter.

Emphasize:

  • Solids do not change shape (unless acted upon) and even when broken each piece retains it's shape.
  • Liquids flow to fill their container. They can move fast or slow but they will always spread out to fill their container. Liquids are poured.
  • Gases can not be seen, but we can feel (and sometimes smell) them. Gases fill their entire space (think balloon versus cup).

End the days lesson by having your child move about the room identifying several solids and liquids. If you have a fan, set it up so that your child can feel the air moving and identify it as a gas.

Liquid Matter Experiment

Provide your child with a series of objects some liquid and some solid in containers. (Provide honey or some other thick liquid so that your child can see that not all liquids are the same.) Have your child identify the liquids. Explain again that liquids will flow to fill their containers where as solids retain their shape.

Next remove the ice from the previous experiment and monitor its transition from solid to liquid. Explain that the energy is being added in the form of heat. Place the ice on a dish so that your child can see that as the matter changes from solid to liquid the water begins to flow over the dish, filling it.

Why Matter Changes

Gather your students in a circle. Explain that we know everything is made up of matter. Matter is actually made of tinier particles called atoms. Atoms are constantly moving. "Today we are going to pretend to be atoms."

"Let's all join hands." Atoms in a solid are closely joined together. They can wiggle about but can't move very far. Like slow dancing.

"Now let's dance a little faster." Atoms in a liquid are more loosely bound. Notice how some of us let go of a neighbor's hand, but many of us are still holding on to one another.

"Now dance really fast." Notice how all of us have broken apart and spread out to fill up the whole room. This is similar to what happens in a gas when we add heat. The atoms break apart and spread out to fill up the room.

Key points to emphasize in this lesson:

  • Matter makes up everything
  • As energy is added the bonds in matter become looser.
  • As energy is added matter changes state from solid to liquid to gas.

Gaseous Matter Experiment

Reminder your child that matter can also exists as a gas even though we can not see it. We know that there is air all around us because we are breathing it in. When we get balloons at a party they too are filled with air. Have your child blow into a balloon to demonstrate that air really does take up space. Weigh the filled balloon versus and unfilled balloon on a balance to show the weight of a gas.

Measure out a cup of water. Boil that water on the stove and let your child observe the steam. After the water has boiled for a time pour the remaining water into a measuring cup and let your child see that the amount has changed. Explain that this is because the water turned to vapor, a gas, and escaped into the air.

Matter Matching and Memory Games

Matter Matching Game

Acquire a variety of pictures of matter in various states including a pictures of water in the three states.

Place the three pictures of water on one side of the table. Give your child several of the other pictures and have her match those pictures to the corresponding water picture. (For example a picture of milk would match the picture of a glass of water, while a helium balloon would match with the picture of water vapor rising from a pot.)

Matter Memory Game

Similar to the matching game, but in this instance you will need to be certain that there are an even number of each type of matter picture (for example: four gases, eight liquid and twelve solids).

Place all the pictures face down on the table.

As with any memory game have your child flip over two pictures and determine if they make a match. Are they both liquids? Solids? Gases?

If they make a match remove them. Otherwise, flip the pictures back over and try again.

Play until all pictures have been matched.

Either game is a fun review of the states of matter. Try playing again several days and/or weeks after you have finished this unit to refresh your child's memory of what she learned.

End the unit by going over the states of matter again with your child. Read through your entire What Is the World Made Of? book. Have her draw an illustration demonstrating the changes in matter. Remind your child that these changes are caused by energy. Finally, you can sing the states of matter song together. Enjoy learning together.

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