When is absorbency taught at school?

Primary school children study absorbency in KS1 science – according to the National Curriculum aim regarding everyday materials, they should learn to:

“Describe the simple physical properties of a variety of everyday materials.”

This includes becoming familiar with the properties of materials, including if they are waterproof/not waterproof and absorbent/not absorbent. In addition, they might conduct simple tests to discover everyday materials’ properties, such as what withstands water and what absorbs it.

A brilliant way for KS1 children to understand materials’ properties is to observe and test them to see if this is safe (and hopefully not too messy!), which is why water is often used to demonstrate absorbency.

Teaching absorbency to children

An object’s ability to soak up or take in other substances is its absorbency, like how a sponge holds water. Related terms to absorbency are:

  • Permeability/Permeableness
  • Retentiveness
  • Sponginess
  • Porousness
  • Perviousness

If something isn’t absorbent at all, it might be called:

  • Nonabsorbent
  • Impermeable
  • Waterproof
  • Impenetrable
  • Impervious
  • Watertight/water-repellent
  • Impregnable
  • Airtight
  • Sealed
  • Nonporous

Children will also be learning about other properties of materials, and some of the main materials they will look at are wood, glass, metal, water, rock, and plastic. For example, it would make sense to look at the absorbency of waterproof materials, which are sometimes called hydrophilic and hydrophobic, as they attract water.

They will be learning about how the properties of materials can change, like an absorbent material will not take in more of a substance when it has reached the maximum capacity. Don’t forget that liquids can absorb gases, heat, and small solids. Our skin is very absorbent in human bodies, which is how moisturizer works.

Helping KS1 children absorb information

You can use some everyday objects to show children how materials absorb liquids – they will be familiar with towels, sponges, tissues, and mops. An umbrella or raincoat is a great example of something designed to be nonabsorbent.

We mostly use absorbent materials to contain liquid to keep things clean and dry. In the past, the more absorbent fabrics, such as cotton and bamboo, tended to be natural, as their natural fibers had space for water and broke their surface tension. This is why cotton towels are common.

However, synthetic fibers are more sophisticated nowadays, so some of the most absorbent materials are a mixture of fabrics. For example, we often use microfibre cloths for cleaning glass; these fabrics have more surface area with their small fibers.

There are interesting innovations regarding super absorbent and hydrophobic materials, although nature has made many water-resistant substances, such as wax. You can demonstrate this with drops of water on a rose petal or leaf.

Absorbency in the classroom

Teaching KS1 children about absorbency as part of the properties of everyday materials should be fairly straightforward and can be hands-on. For example, you could provide a small amount of water and ask them to choose from different materials which one they think will hold the liquid best.

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