4 (Fun) Basic Elements of Backyard Science

Written by Simple Homeschool contributor Renee Tougas of FIMBY.

Summer is the perfect time for outdoor science and backyard learning.

Bubbles, insect study, gardening, star gazing and acorn catapults – all of this is science. And all of it is fun.

When your children are young – pre-school and elementary years, it is so simple to turn your backyard into an outdoor laboratory for studying the natural world.

Here’s one fun approach you can take to create an outdoor environment for learning inspired by the four classical elements of air, fire, earth and water.


Air is everywhere so obviously you’ve got a lot of it in your backyard.

In time you can explain the periodic table of elements and talk about the different gases that comprise the air in our atmosphere. But let’s talk about fun air shall we?

The breeze that blows through your hair as you sail through the air on a swing. Or the height you feel (and the view over the fence you get) bouncing on a trampoline. Or how about something as simple as blowing bubbles and watching the air rise.

This is the air of summer science.

Makes sure your kids get plenty of “air study” this summer. Swing sets, tire swings, trampolines and let’s not forget bubble mix – are all great investments for your backyard laboratory.

Photo by Renee Tougas


Fire is dangerous, which is why it must be so inherently intriguing to children.

I know we all want to keep our children safe but it’s good to let them experiment with fire in a controlled and supervised environment. Depending on where you live there may be regulations about lighting fires on your property so you should look into those. Also, fires must be supervised at all times.

If you want to get technical explain how fire works.  You can get as detailed as your children’s learning level allows.

With safety precautions in place fire can be a part of your summer science. It is a chemical reaction after all.

You don’t need to go camping to roast marshmallows, do it in your backyard.

Photo by Renee Tougas


Do you have dirt in your backyard? What about a sandbox?

If yes, you’ve got all you need to explore the element of earth. Little ones of course love to simply dig and makes piles of dirt. Which they will scoop up and move somewhere else. Moving earth, it’s a toddler pre-occupation.

As soon as your children can dig they can learn to plant a few seeds and watch a garden grow. Gardening is part earth science, part botany and of course part gastronomic pleasure.

Photo by Renee Tougas

Let’s not forget mud. Dirt and water mixed together, perhaps the best kind of earth there is.

If you want to make this more scientific you can study different types of soils or rocks found in your backyard (geology).

Digging in the dirt with your children is about as easy as backyard science gets.


A backyard can get pretty hot in summer, which provides a great opportunity to experience the fourth element – water.

Water in and of itself can provide for a lot of scientific study, especially if collected from a little pond. A pond is fairly easy to build and could be a summer garden project. Alternately, you could use a plastic kiddie pool set in the shade. Take a trip to a local pond to gather some little critters and put them in your own backyard for study.

Photo by Renee Tougas

Another possibility is to talk about the water cycle and do a simple transpiration experiment on one of your plants.

Don’t forget water of the cooling off variety, this too is important to investigate. Sprinklers are easy to set up and can water your lawn and garden and kiddie pools are good for little ones (and can be converted to shallow water ponds when the kids outgrow it).

Or if you’re really fortunate you can study buoyancy in a backyard pool. The hottest of summer days is a great time to test this scientific principle for yourself.

Photo by Renee Tougas

A little research at your library (a cool place to hang out on really hot days) will turn up all sorts of books on air, fire, earth and water. These classical elements can be studied from many angles – geology, weather, biology and safety.

And when you’re ready to set the books aside make sure you have some fun enjoying these four basic elements in your backyard.

What fun ways do you study science during the summer months?

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About Renee

Renee is a creative homemaker and homeschooling mama of three. She loves to write, take pretty photos, and be in nature with her family. Her mission is to nourish, encourage, and teach; build relationship and create beauty. FIMBY is where she tells that story. Drawing from her years of experience and training, Renee also offers individual and personalized Homeschool Coaching.


  1. Great article; I couldn’t agree more.
    Nicole’s latest post: Pond Life

  2. Love this! You captured the elements of summer science and fun – and now I’ve got a big-time urge for acorn catapults and some transpiration experimenting 🙂

    thanks, Renee! Always love what you have to say here 🙂
    Kara Fleck’s latest post: Make Your Own Backyard Obstacle Course

  3. Great post! I’m ready to go sloshing through our little mud pit we made in the backyard.
    Rana’s latest post: Wordless Wednesday – Lets Ride!

  4. Love the idea of using an old kiddie pool to make an outdoor pond! Would never have thought of that–thanks, Renee!
    Jamie ~ Simple Homeschool’s latest post: 4 Fun Basic Elements of Backyard Science

    • If you decide to try it make sure to keep the pond in a shady or cool area of your yard if possible. Because the water level is so shallow it heats up quickly.

      We killed our salamander tadpoles this way earlier this summer. Cooked ’em, poor little critters.

      In years past we’ve attracted frogs, kept crayfish for a time and of course had millions of microscopic creatures that Laurent has tried to identify. All in our kiddie pool converted into a pond.

  5. love it – my philosophy as well…we also enjoy laying on a blanket in our yard and spying on whatever critters wander by on the grass, the flowers, the bushes…LOTS of spiders – this adventure is not for the squeamish!! do you do anything to discourage mosquitos in your little pond? or do the pond critters take care of that for you?

    • The mosquitos have never been a problem, though at times there have been hundreds (thousands) of mosquito larvae in the pond. The other pond critters eat them and sometimes the kids will scoop out a large cluster of larvae and discard in the compost – insect population control.

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