5 Back-to-School Science Activities for Elementary Students

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Get your elementary kids excited to learn about science on the first day of school! Participating in back-to-school science activities and experiments is an excellent way for your students to learn how to collaborate with others while building their observational, problem solving, and critical thinking skills. These traits are vital for success in the classroom and beyond.

We’ve published hands-on activities to help infuse ELA instruction in science class. Here, we provide lessons that are better poised to get students learning about each other while preparing for a fun year full of science.

First-Day-of-School Science Activities

Try these five first-day-of-school science activities and experiments with your elementary students:

Activity 1: Pet Inventions

This science class activity inspires creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving. Your students can let their imaginations fly when they create fanciful inventions to make their pets’ lives easier or more fun. Don’t worry—they don’t need to have a family pet to participate. Only imagination!

What You Need

  • Paper (lined and unlined)
  • Markers or crayons

What to Do

  • Give your students an example of a real pet invention such as the “doggie door,“ a small door in the bottom of a larger door that allows a pet to go outside and come back in freely.
  • Brainstorm with them a list of fanciful inventions. Here’s one to get started:
    • There’s no telling how far your pet frog will leap when it bounces off the Froggy Trampoline. And Mom will love that it’s small enough to fit in your closet when your frog is sleeping.
  • Divide your students into groups of three. Ask each group to come up with one invention. One child in the group writes a paragraph describing the invention, another child draws a picture to go with the description, and the third child presents the group’s invention to the rest of the class.

Teaching Option

  • If your students enjoy participating in this science activity, consider taking it a step further by holding an invention convention at your school to allow them to share their ideas beyond the classroom.

Activity 2: Shark Surprise

This science activity lets students practice their observational skills while creating their own card game.

What You Need

  • Colored pencils or fine-point markers
  • Index cards
  • Books or magazines with pictures or illustrations of fish

What to Do

  • Tell students they’ll play a card game called Shark Surprise, but first, they must make the cards.
  • Divide the class into groups of four. Tell them to look through books, magazines, or online and choose a fish they’d like to draw. Then have them draw that fish on two index cards. Explain to students that they’re making a matching pair of cards, so the pictures on the cards should match as closely as possible. Then have them carefully label their pictures. Have each group collect their cards into a deck.
  • Now have each student in the group draw a shark on one index card and label it. Let each group choose one of the shark cards to insert into the deck. (They can set aside the other shark cards for the next few games.)
  • Tell students they’re ready to play the game. Explain that the idea of the game is to collect as many pairs as possible and not get caught holding the shark card. Encourage them to be careful not to let others know if they hold the shark card. Choose one student in each group to be the dealer. After they have shuffled the cards, have the dealers deal out all the cards face down.
  • Tell students to look at their cards carefully, find any matching pairs, and read aloud the name of the fish on those pairs before setting them aside. Then have the student to the left of the dealer in each group begin play by drawing a card from the player on their left. If the player draws a matching card, they must read aloud the name of the fish on the card and set aside the pair. Play continues to the left. The game ends when all the pairs are “caught,” and someone is left holding the shark card.
  • Consider having your students identify one observation about the fish every time they make a pair, for example, “has a pointed tail fin“ or “has six fins.“
  • Have students replace the shark card with another shark card, shuffle the deck, and play again.

Teaching Options

  • You may want to have students work with partners to create matching pairs of cards.
  • For longer games, you can have students make additional pairs of fish cards to add to each deck.

Activity 3: Shapebook Pattern Worksheets

Older students use evidence notebooks in the science classroom; however, it’s never too early to prepare younger students to do the same. Evidence notebooks allow students to record observations and predictions, write new vocabulary, make sketches to express what they see and think, and write questions. Our shapebook pattern worksheets provide students space to write their science observations and questions as they explore the world around them. They could use these worksheets as they take part in one of our science activities or experiments. Download the worksheets now!

Here’s a take-home assignment you could give your students to encourage them to use their worksheets:

What You Need

  • Shapebook pattern worksheets

What to Do

  • Introduce your students to the following sentence starters in class:
    • When I look up, I see…
    • When I look down, I see…
    • When I look left, I see…
    • When I look right, I see…
  • Tell them they should go outside and look in those directions and notice what they can see of the natural world outside of class hours. To complete the sentence starters, they should write what they saw (for example, bird, tree, bug, weeds).
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Activity 4: Milk Soap Rainbow

How does soap change the properties of milk? Your students will find out after conducting this hands-on science experiment. Using milk, food coloring, and dish soap, students experiment with surface tension and chemical change. This lesson is an excellent way to teach states of matter, properties of matter, attractive forces, and surface tension. Also, this experiment is a great way for you to introduce the steps of the scientific method (ask a question, make an observation, form a hypothesis, conduct an experiment, explore and analyze the data, and draw a conclusion) and have students apply what they’ve learned.

Activity 5: Water Sketching

Using dry-erase markers, glass, and water, students experiment with the properties of cohesion and adhesion. This hands-on science experiment is a great way for students to explore the properties of matter. You can also have your students practice the steps of the scientific method while conducting this experiment.

More Back-to-School Science Activities

Another way you can prepare your students for the rest of the year is by discussing what scientists do, the skills scientists use, and the ways we use science in our daily lives. We hope you enjoy these ideas—whether you do them on the first day of class or any other day. Share back-to-school science experiments and activities with us via email at or reach out on Twitter (@HMHCo) or Facebook.


Contact your Texas team for more hands-on science lessons and activities for Grades K–5.

This blog, originally published in 2021, has been updated for 2022.