You and your child will have an enormous amount of fun while following our complete guide to 1st Grade Science & Engineering.
As with our other guides, we are not sponsored by any of the external products we recommend or the companies that produce them. There are no affiliate links in this post.
A Hands-On Curriculum
With this guide, your student will gain significant interactive experience with science and engineering concepts, and have lots of fun along the way!
If you previously followed our Kindergarten Science and Engineering Guide, your child may have already started doing the hands-on activities available on the Science Max website. In 1st grade, we’re continuing to ramp up the amount of hands-on education we recommend. In fact, in this post, we’re going to recommend all the science lab resources you’re going to need for grades 1-3.
Unfortunately, that does mean that this year will be more expensive than most, but don’t worry: all of the items listed here are intended for use over multiple years, and most of them are completely reusable. In total, the items we suggest here are available for a cost of $157.96, which is less than many science curricula cost for a single year. We’re still trying to save you money, we promise!
Our 1st grade guide consists of four key components:
- A YouTube playlist with more than 40 hours of engaging videos.
- A science kit capable of supporting dozens of science projects. Specifically, we recommend the “Japace Surprising Science Kit“, but you can substitute another kit if you prefer.
- The LeapFrog Magic Adventures Microscope, and optionally a good set of microscope slides.
- The video game “The Incredible Machine – Even More Contraptions“, which will challenge your child with hundreds of mind-bending engineering puzzles.
Much like our preschool and kindergarten guides, our 1st grade guide includes a free YouTube playlist with all sorts of science and engineering information. The 40+ hour playlist for this grade level continues with some of the same channels used in our kindergarten playlist, with more great videos from shows like Science Max, Brave Wilderness, Operation Ouch, Mystery Science, and more!
Once again, simply play the videos for your child at the pace that makes sense for your family. After finishing the playlist, we recommend replaying the Science Max episodes at least once.
The Japace Surprising Science Kit
As a Ph.D. chemist, I have high standards for educational lab kits. For young students in particular, I find that most products are painfully limited in the amount of content they provide. Science kits also tend to be highly overpriced – the most promising options are often $100 or more.
After a lengthy investigation, I’m pleased to have found a well-constructed science kit at a great price: the Japace Surprising Science Kit. At the time of writing, this kit is available at a cost of $34.99 from Amazon.
The kit contains a good selection of lab equipment that is suitable for elementary school students. There are a few cases where you are asked to acquire some ingredients yourself, but we’ve found that this kit is far better than most at providing nearly everything you need.
The instructions cover more than 100 small science projects (although it should be noted that some of these are just slight variations of each other), which is more than enough for two grade levels of science labs. I suggest that you perform roughly the first 50 projects in 1st grade, and the rest in 2nd grade. It’s okay to skip a few projects, especially if they require items you don’t have on hand.
To be clear: you don’t need to use this particular science kit. There are many other options, and some of them are quite good. This is simply what we’ve identified as the best product available at a good price. Feel free to substitute another science kit of your choosing, but we suggest that you first compare it against this kit as an approximate reference for what 1st-2nd grade science labs should look like.
The LeapFrog Magic Adventures Microscope
We think every budding scientist should have access to a decent microscope, and have put considerable effort into finding a microscope that:
- Is easy for elementary students to use.
- Has a digital display, so that parents and children can see the slides simultaneously.
- Is suitable for viewing proper sample slides.
- Has good enough magnification to see some cellular features.
We’re frankly surprised to say that the microscope that best satisfies these requirements is the LeapFrog Magic Adventures Microscope. It might look like a toy, but this is a genuine stereoscopic microscope with an advertised maximum magnification of 200x, which is on the lower end of what you need for viewing cells and some larger cell features. Although there are other stereoscopic microscopes that advertise magnification of 1000x or more, we’ve found that such numbers tend to include meaningless “digital zoom” factors – their true optical magnification is generally no higher than that of the LeapFrog microscope. From our experience, the LeapFrog microscope offers equal or superior magnification to stereoscopic microscopes available at similar price points.
The LeapFrog Magic Adventures Microscope comes with 8 “double-sided smart slides”. These are not real microscope slides. Placing them in the microscope causes it to display some prerecorded images of microscopic objects, which students can then manipulate using the microscope controls. The microscope can offer some facts about the subjects of these “smart slides” while they are being viewed, as well play videos about them.
The “smart slides” are a nice addition, and may be a good place for children to get started, but the primary reason we recommend this microscope is that is absolutely capable of viewing real microscope slides. It comes with a couple of real slides for collecting samples, and your child can have lots of fun gathering up insects, leaves, rocks, and other items for examination. This is the true value of having a microscope on hand: whenever your child finds something interesting in the backyard or around the house, simply suggest placing it under the microscope.
The LeapFrog Magic Adventures Microscope is available for purchase from Amazon for $69.99.
Optionally, you may also want to purchase some professionally prepared microscope slides for viewing. There are many good products available for this purpose, and it doesn’t matter a great deal which specific slides you purchase. We use a 100 piece set from BNISE, which we’ve found works quite well with the microscope. It is available for purchase from Amazon for $42.99. This is an especially extensive set of slides, and can continue to be used well into middle school.
The Incredible Machine
The Incredible Machine is a series of video games consisting of hundreds of engineering puzzles that can work wonders on a child’s problem solving skills. Although the games are fairly old (the most recent entry was released in 2001), they remain unmatched in their accessibility to a younger audience. All the instructions are voiced, so new readers won’t be intimidated trying to read unusual vocabulary words. There is an extensive series of tutorials, and many of the puzzles contain helpful hints. 1st grade students should be able to play the game by themselves with minimal parental assistance.
We’ve previously written an extensive guide to purchasing video games on Steam; unfortunately, The Incredible Machine is not available on Steam. That’s okay, though: you can purchase it from Good Old Games (better known as GOG) for the low list price of $9.99 (if you’re patient, you can likely get it on sale for even less). You’ll need to first create a GOG account and purchase The Incredible Machine Mega Pack.
After completing the purchase, go to your GOG library. One way to do this is to click your username in the top navigation bar, and then click “Games” from the drop-down menu.
You should now see a page with the four games from The Incredible Machine Mega Pack. The only one we actually care about is The Incredible Machine – Even More Contraptions. The other games are earlier entries in the series, and there isn’t much reason to play them. Click on the game titled The Incredible Machine – Even More Contraptions.
You should now see a page that looks like the following. There are two ways to install the game:
- GOG really wants you to click the big blue button, which will install GOG Galaxy. This is a program that works like Steam, and can manage all your GOG purchases. You can install GOG Galaxy if you want, but it really isn’t necessary.
- We recommend that you instead click the much smaller link under “Download Offline Backup Game Installers”. This will download a file called “setup_tim_even_more_contaptions_126.96.36.199.exe” (or something similar). When it finishes downloading, double click the file to launch the installer. Follow the instructions in the installer, and it will install The Incredible Machine – Even More Contraptions onto your computer without the need for GOG Galaxy.
Once the install process has completed, you can launch the game. Because it is an older game, the display resolution for the game is likely lower than that of your screen. It might take a moment for the game to come up. If it doesn’t appear after a minute, check if the game’s icon is in your taskbar and click it. It should appear shortly. If you have other issues, you can contact GOG support.
With the installation process out of the way, your child can begin playing the game and developing the types of problem solving skills needed by real-world engineers. There are more than enough puzzles to occupy a child for two grade levels of engineering. For 1st grade, students should at the very least complete all of the tutorial levels and the first 25 easy levels, although it’s better if they can complete all the easy levels. You may need to provide some assistance for the first few puzzles, but students should largely be able to proceed on their own, with some help from the in-game voiced hints.
We Respect Your Right to Teach Your Beliefs
As with our previous guides, this guide does not seek to promote evolution, creationism, or any other belief regarding origins. We believe strongly in the rights of parents to choose how and when to address this subject for young children. Regardless of your personal convictions, you can use our curriculum as the core component of your child’s Science & Engineering studies, while being free to supplement it with more personalized coverage of the topic of origins.