Week of the Young Child Series (2 of 5)

Scientific Inquiry and Sensory Exploration by Cheryl Viera

Sometimes we may not want our kids to get dirty or make a mess, but keep in mind those messes may be the first investigations of a future engineer or the first journal of a future author or illustrator!

It all begins with sensory experiences where children have opportunities investigate and observe their world through touching, smashing, squishing, digging, pouring, and poking.

I’ve observed caregivers standing in awe of their young children who remain engaged in an activity for a prolonged time when kids usually have a reputation for short attention spans.  The key to engagement is presentation of appropriate materials to explore and discover at their current developmental level.

Ask questions of your child:

What happened when you added the mixture to your baking soda? What would happen if we added more of the mixture?  Why did it make bubbles?  Do you know what those bubbles are called? (You can explain the science behind this.) What colors did you observe?  Did you observe any new colors being created? How were the reactions of each mixture different?  Were all the reactions the same (for each color mixture)?

*Children may not yet possess the vocabulary to describe their observations.  In that case, ask the questions and provide the answers as they are investigating.  Through this conversation you are building their experiential knowledge and scientific vocabulary.

The science behind the investigation:

Baking soda and vinegar react with each other because of an acid-base reaction. Baking soda is a bicarbonate and vinegar is an acetic acid.  The reaction when they’re mixed creates carbon dioxide gas.  Lemon juice is citric acid, when mixed with baking soda creates a similar chemical reaction, creating carbon dioxide gas as well.


Place baking soda in a cocktail cup and add the vinegar/water-color mixture using a condiment bottle.  How is the reaction the same?  How is the reaction different?

Discovery and Exploration:

Keep in mind there is no ‘right or wrong’ way to discover and explore.  Some children may pour their entire mixture into the baking soda.  Some children will spend their time pouring and transferring liquid from one cup to another.  Other children may want to play in their tray of baking soda.  It is important to find a balance between adult-guided and child-guided learning.  We best serve as facilitators to the learning, maintaining a safe environment where kids feel free to investigate and observe what happens when they act upon the materials.


Copple, C., & Bredekamp, S. (2009). Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs: Serving children birth through age 8 (3rd ed.). Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Epstein, A. (2007). The intentional teacher: Choosing the best strategies for young children’s learning. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Moravcik, E., Nolte, S., & Feeney, S. (2013).  Meaningful curriculum for young children.  Upper Saddle River, NJ:  Pearson Education.

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