This week we are focusing on science and what better way to kick it off than talking about what teaching science to young kids looks like with Amanda Morgan from Not Just Cute. Amanda is a child development consultant who enjoys teaching teachers and parents about how kids learn and the best ways to teach. Visit her blog here.
I love talking to preschool teachers about teaching science. Though I don’t often start out that way.
I ask them about their favorite themes and activities to teach the kids in their preschool classrooms. Soon we fill an entire board with topics enthusiastically scrawled in colorful marker. They’re the activities found in preschool classrooms everywhere. Color mixing. Trees. Playdough. Dress-up. And on and on.
And then I ask, “What do these topics and activities have to do with science?”
Then looks that say, “You didn’t say science activities, you just said activities.”
So we table the list for a moment, and talk about what science is really all about.
What is science?
When I’m trying to define science, it’s hard to beat this quote from Kathleen Conezio, MS and Lucia French, PhD
“Whereas many adults think of science as a discrete body of knowledge, for young children science is finding out about the everyday world that surrounds them. This is exactly what they are interested in doing, all day, every day. In the preschool classroom or in the university research laboratory, science is an active and open-ended search for new knowledge. It involves people working together in building theories, testing those theories, and then evaluating what worked, what didn’t, and why.”
(And here’s my favorite part…)
“Science itself is not an activity, but an approach to doing an activity. This approach involves a process of inquiry – theorizing, hands-on investigation, and discussion.”
(Source: Capitalizing on Children’s Fascination with the Everyday World to Foster Language and Literacy Development. Young Children, September 2002)
So science isn’t the activity. It isn’t the textbook. It isn’t the supplies. It’s an approach.
Science happens every day in every corner of a preschool classroom and in every inch of a preschooler’s home. It’s more about curiosity and discovery than about a set of facts to be learned. Science is the essence of learning to learn.
As I interviewed Ellen Galinsky about her book, Mind in the Making she said, “We are very content-focused in education right now. I feel strongly that we won’t turn around the slippage that has been happening in education unless we focus on both content and life skills as well as promote learning that keeps the fire burning in children’s eyes.”
Content does matter. Having a grasp of information is important, of course. But in this age, perhaps more than ever before, information is so accessible that it’s critical to keep children passionately curious — able to make connections, and use information, not just recite it. We must light the fire, not just fill the pail, as Yeats would say.
Think of the great minds of our more recent history. From Thomas Edison to Albert Einstein to Steve Jobs, amazing accomplishments have come not from knowing something no one else knew, but from using known information in new ways to do something different. Something brilliant.
Facts without curiosity, connections, and creativity can be found easily from any smart phone or laptop with access to Google. But light that fire Galinsky talks about and let passionate learners wonder, theorize, explore, and play and ingenuity is born.
As Steve Jobs is known to have said:
“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.”
Kids don’t need more content, they need more experiences. And they need more time thinking and talking about those experiences. They need to be immersed in a culture of scientific inquiry.
Where’s the Science?
So back to the board full of favorite classroom activities. Where is the science? It’s in every single one of them. It’s in the experience. It’s in the connections. It comes when we have a lively classroom or home where we question and wonder aloud. A place where we observe, and discuss, and experiment, and apply. It’s in the mindset, the approach to the world.
Science is everywhere in the classroom.
Science is found at the playdough table when a child sinks her hands into squishy playdough and observes how it can move and bend. It’s there when she wonders what will happen when she adds toothpicks, experiments with that, observes again, and continues the process end on end.
It’s at the easel when a child observes one color streaking the page and then wonders what will happen when another color is added.
It’s in the block area when a teacher asks the children to tell her about what they’ve built, and then wonders aloud about what would happen if another block was added on top of the teetering tower.
It’s in circle time when children ask what words mean, and when teachers take the time not just to explain but to have the children act it out. It’s there when teachers read stories and ask what might happen next.
Science is everywhere in our homes.
Science is there when we make muffins with our kids and give them experience using measuring tools and wondering about the process of turning soggy batter into bready deliciousness.
It’s in our own backyards when we bend close with our little ones to hold a rolly-polly in our hands or chase fireflies on a summer’s night.
It’s there at bath time when our kids pour water from one container to the next, then drop bath toys in one by one, watching to see which will float.
Science offers an open invitation to each of us every single day. An invitation to wonder.
When we incorporate a mindset of inquiry — asking, theorizing, experiencing, experimenting, observing, discussing — every aspect of every day can be filled with the magical wonder of science.
We are exploring science for kids all week long and you can find more ideas on our Science for Kids Pinterest Board!
We love to play with vinegar and baking soda at our house . We explored it with squirt guns, at a play date and even pretending to be mad scientists. This time we made potions but really we just made a really awesome fun mess! We made these after school this week and already my 2 year old has asked to make so many I am out of vinegar and baking soda. Kids love to pretend and mixing imagination with scientific inquiry is a great way to get them interested in asking questions and testing their theories out. We pretended we were making love potions but not the way that maybe a teenager would think about it. Instead we were making potions to make everyone feel loved, not to fall in love with us and even that fell by the wayside . Bottom line, have fun and make sure you have towels ready!
- Gather your materials. You will need some baking soda, vinegar and then we added food color and food flavoring ( strawberry and cherry) . You will want clear containers, spoons, and whatever you need to protect your house from food color.
- Set out the ingredients and let them explore. While they started I talked about how some people think that potions and spells will make people fall in love and they both thought that was crazy talk! We pretended we were making people feel love but soon they just got into making a potion and the love bit was lost. This is fine the goal wasn’t to teach about love potions so much as simply explore.
- My son saw the baking soda and immediately got excited about the prospect of a fizzy overflowing potion. Only he couldn’t remember what made it bubble and discovered it was not the cherry flavoring.
- My daughter followed her brother’s lead and absolutely adored every minute.
- Once they figured out it was the vinegar they made potions over and over. In all different color combinations and with as much excitement every time. It soon turned into making predictions about if it would overflow or not.
A science experiment for kids should be fun and I don’t think my son could have had more fun than he did with this mash up of two classic summer activities. He is all about squirt guns and backing soda volcanoes are a constant favorite here. Using your child’s interests to make learning fun is such a fun way to make your child eager to learn. If squirt guns are not welcome in your play then you can use eye droppers, turkey basters and even bath toys instead. Make sure after the activity you wash the squirt guns carefully to get all the vinegar out so there are no accidental squirts at someone later.
- Gather your materials. You will need a pan ( ignore the mini muffin tin, that was our first attempt and well obviously it didn’t work. It was too hard for a 5 year old to get a good aim on such small targets), baking soda, vinegar , food coloring, a large measuring cup or bowl , protective eye wear and squirt guns.
- Start by adding food coloring in random dots to your pan.
- Cover with baking soda.
- Fill your squirt guns with vinegar. The easiest way to do this is to submerge the squirt guns in a bowl or large measuring cup full of vinegar.
- Get ready – go outside! Make sure the protective eye wear is on . Ask your child to make a prediction about what will happen.
- Shoot !
- He loved the colored bubbles – he had no clue there was food coloring under the baking soda.
- He stepped closer to get the harder to aim at areas.
- It was super fun to see all the colors emerge and even mix together .
- After the guns were empty his sister was invited out to do some pouring too.
Making science fun and exciting for kids when they are young lays the foundation for the years ahead. Have a blast with this simple science experiment , it was a huge hit with my son and one of his buddies at a play date we had yesterday. I told the boys that we had a mystery to solve which powder would make the biggest eruption? That was all two 5 year old boys needed to hear.
- Gather your materials. You will need some small containers , something for your little scientists to pour the vinegar out of ( ours were little food containers used for dip), cookie sheets to keep your kitchen from becoming a mess, a and some paper and marker to make numbers. Then you will also need some baking powder, baking soda , cornstarch and vinegar. I made a little chart but we didn’t use it , they were too excited and that excitement was my goal so we just asked questions and made predictions verbally.
- Start by pouring the vinegar into a smaller container. This made it much easier to refill the cups between pours.
- Fill the containers with the powder and place in order on the trays.
- Call the kids.Have them check out the powders however they want and decide which will make the biggest eruption.
- Pour ! #1 was baking powder which has baking soda in it so it bubbled over ( more than I expected ) but it didn’t erupt.
- #2 was cornstarch and both boys declared it a “Dud” .
- #3 was the grand finale and it didn’t disappoint.
- After the experiment was over they played and poured until there were no more bubbles to be had. They were chattering so quickly to each other about droids and potions and giggling it was hard to catch what they were pretending it all was, but it was clear they were having a ball. After the play date was over my son asked to do more science at play dates. I am more than willing!
On the way to preschool a few weeks ago my son and I got to talking about foreign species of animals and how destructive they are to the habitats they invade. In that rather complex conversation I realized my son knew a lot about habitats but there were some animals he simply said came from the zoo … it was time for some learning cloaked as a game. I finally got around to making this over the weekend and we had fun.
- Gather your materials. I used construction paper and scissors for the paper habitat mats I made, double stick tape and a glue stick. You will also need a marker and lots of animal toys. Some of ours are bath toys that weren’t all the way dry… oops.
- Start by cutting the sheets of construction paper in half , this size is perfect for the mats and then you can use the other half for the cut outs.
- Decide which habitats you will make. I decided on jungle, farm, antarctic, and forest because of the animals we had on hand. Remember to use the toys you have for learning, with some brain storming you can save money and play with all those extras that don’t get much use. My helper played with the animals while I brain stormed, with her goggles on of course.
- Create. I loved doing this. If you have older kids see if they want to create this for their younger sibling(s).
- Label them and call for someone to come play!
- With my five year old I let him sort and when he tried to put the raccoon in the jungle I asked ” Have you seen racoons around here? Do we live in the jungle?” and let him answer and adjust. Always ask why because sometimes they have a darn good reason that may only make sense to them but it will likely open up a teaching opportunity for you. Younger kids like my daughter can do an simplified version with only one mat and a simple yes or no sorting activity. I’d focus mostly on labeling the animals and their attributes at that age.
- After he sorted the rest I took some and placed them in the wrong place. Asking why a monkey couldn’t live in the antarctic, or why a whale wouldn’t enjoy swimming in the pond in a forest. This forced him to consider why animals live in specific places. We also touched on domestication and how farms and zoos are different. It was the best part of the lesson and wouldn’t have happened without the sorting game as an ice breaker.
The Next Step
These are my ideas for extending the activity for children who are ready for it . The next step for this would be to purposefully put an animal in the wrong habitat and ask your child to write down a list of things they would need to survive in the wrong habitat. For example a monkey in the antarctic would need warm clothing, fresh fruit delivered, a enclosure built off the ice, maybe even some snow boots! Let them make the list but make sure they answer why they need each item too!
A House for Hermit Crab is a book I have owned for many years. It offers so many learning opportunities for young readers and doesn’t loose any of the entertainment in trying to hard to teach. The hermit crab feels drab and each month he asks different sea creatures to help decorate his shell . As the shell is getting more and more beautiful it’s also getting more and more snug and almost time for the hermit crab to leave it behind and find a bigger one. The book teaches about sea creatures habitats, months of the year and moving. More than moving it teaches about change . Change is difficult for all of us but a little trickier for most preschoolers which makes this book so valuable.