Science at primary school
Exciting and practical
Along with English and maths, science remains one of the main core subjects in primary school. It can be one of the most exciting and practical subjects and, as a result, is a real joy for teachers and pupils. Children love the chance to learn through being totally hands-on and finding things out for themselves — the perfect way to understand the world around them. A positive primary science experience is also key to encouraging future generations to not only study this at secondary school, but also potentially to follow it as a career.
The science curriculum in primary schools in England
Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS)
In the EYFS, science is included within the Understanding the World area of learning. As with other learning in Reception, your child will mainly learn about science through games and play – which objects float and sink during water play, for example. Activities such as these will help your child to develop important skills such as observation, prediction and critical thinking.
Key Stage 1 (Years 1 and 2) and Key Stage 2 (Years 3 to 6)
The content of science teaching and learning is set out in the 2014 National Curriculum for primary schools in England. Within this, certain topics and areas are repeated across year groups, meaning that children may revisit a particular topic in each year of primary school but with increasing difficulty and with a different focus each time.
For example, the area of animals, including humans is examined in every single year group, with a very clear progression of knowledge and understanding over the six years:
In Year 1 this involves: looking at the human body, recognising animal groups and sorting these animals.
By Year 6, this will have developed into knowing the internal structure of the human body in relation to circulation, classifying living things based on more complex characteristics and exploring scientific research into this classification.
The more detailed content for each year group is as follows:
- Plants (basic structure)
- Animals including humans (basic knowledge of parts of human body and comparing animals)
- Everyday materials (describing properties)
- Seasonal changes.
- Plants (what plants need to grow)
- Animals including humans (needs for survival, food and hygiene)
- Use of everyday materials (explore and compare materials for uses)
- Living things and their habitats (explore variety of habitats, simple food chains).
- Plants (life cycles)
- Animals including humans (nutrition, skeleton and muscles)
- Rocks (fossils and soils)
- Light (reflection and shadows)
- Forces and magnets (magnetic materials, attracting and repelling).
- Animals including humans (digestive system, teeth and food chains)
- Living things and habitats (classification keys)
- States of matter (changes of state, evaporation and condensation)
- Sound (vibration, pitch and volume)
- Electricity (simple circuits, insulators and conductors).
- Animals including humans (human development from birth to old age)
- Living things and their habitats (life cycles and reproduction in humans and plants)
- Properties and changes of materials (dissolving, separating materials, reversible and irreversible changes)
- Forces (gravity, air resistance, water resistance, friction)
- Earth and Space (Earth, Sun and Moon, the solar system).
- Animals including humans (circulatory system, diet and exercise, healthy living)
- Living things and their habitat (classification, characteristics of plant and animal groups)
- Light (how it travels, how we see, shadows)
- Electricity (voltage and power in circuits, circuit components, symbols and diagrams)
- Evolution and inheritance (how living things have changed over time, fossils, dinosaurs, adaptation to environment).
Alongside these areas runs the Working Scientifically element. This focuses on the skills the children need to become accurate, careful and confident practical scientists. Children are expected to master certain skills in each year group and there is a very clear progression of these set out for each school to refer to. For example:
In Year 1 a child may have to ask questions, carry out a simple test, record simple data and then try to answer questions.
By Year 6, they should be able to plan and carry out a fair test by using equipment accurately and taking exact readings or measurements. They are also expected to be able to draw conclusions from their results and record them using a range of graphs and charts.
The science curriculum in primary schools in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
- For the Curriculum for Excellence experiences and outcomes for sciences in Scotland visit Education Scotland.
- Details about science in the national curriculum for Wales can be found on the Learning Wales website.
- In Northern Ireland, science is included within The World Around Us area of learning. Visit CCEA for details.
How can I support my child in science?
1. Be interested
Find out their termly topics (most schools will provide this information each term, or you can always ask their teacher) and take an interest — find relevant books in the library or bookshop, do some research, brush up your own knowledge about the topic! Then you can have interesting conversations where you are both learning at the same time.
2. Take a trip
Why not take a trip to a science museum, a zoo or an aquarium? These don’t necessarily need to be completely related to what they are learning about at school. Any visit can help their curiosity and engagement with science generally.
3. Make it personal
Find out about famous scientists and research unique and exciting inventions up to and including the present day. Who knows, you may have the next Stephen Hawking or Marie Curie at home!
4. Get hands-on
Look up fun, practical science experiments you can do at home with everyday objects.
- Ask ‘What happens when you mix food colouring in milk?’ Then add washing up liquid and watch what happens.
- Why not try making your own mini exploding volcano? Just add bicarbonate of soda, food colouring, washing up liquid and vinegar. Then stand back and watch the eruption!
- Cooking is also a great opportunity to mix ingredients, add heat and examine changing states.
- Try exploring changing states with ice and water to begin to see those changes that can be reversed and those that can’t.
- A real favourite would have to be ‘gloop’ — use water and cornflour (add food colouring too if needed) to explore solids and liquids. Just be prepared to get messy!
- Of course, there are also some wonderful science kits available to buy to push your scientists further – making crystals, rockets and even bouncy balls.
Anything where they can be hands-on and see the science happen in front of their eyes is guaranteed to be get them interested.
Further support and useful weblinks
- The National Curriculum for science
- for video clips and activities
- The Science Museum for information, games etc.
- The Children’s University of Manchester Science pages
- The Royal Institute’s annual Christmas lectures make science real for children and are available online, along with lots of other educational goodies
- National Geographic Kids
From the blog
Super science activities to try at home
Hands-on activities are a great way to start talking about science at home.
Books to inspire young scientists
Encourage your child's interest with these great books to inspire young scientists.