Friday, October 11, 2013

Family Scientists!

This week we offer background and ideas for teachers to use in the classroom or in a newsletter. We hope families use these outdoor ideas as they explore the seasonal changes in the environment.

Science is all around us. You can encourage science in a classroom or where you live. How? One of the easiest and best ways is to simply take children outside. When adults do this, it helps awaken those memories of our own childhoods. What did we enjoy and see outside? Do you have memories of seasonal changes? Did you collect leaves, look for snakeskins, or intently observe a caterpillar on a twig? These produce long-term memories for humans. Experiences in the out-of-doors are memorable and create genuine learning opportunities. They also remind us to take time to appreciate the world all around us.

Recently I watched the excitement of four preschoolers as they discovered a large green caterpillar. The ensuing science talk was both developmentally-appropriate and would have made trained scientists proud. The little boys discussed the movement, the prickly hair, and the "googly"eyes. This is observation, as it should take place, in a natural setting. Scientific safety practices were noted as one child said the caterpillar should not be touched as it might sting. They all agreed. One budding environmentalist even said touching the caterpillar could stop it from going where it needed to travel.  With this, the talk turned to the question of where the caterpillar might be going, I realized these very young children were making hypotheses. They pointed outside the playground, up a tree, and across a road. Then they waited to test their guesses. They clapped and jumped as the caterpillar headed for a tree.  What a way to make the scientific process come alive!

An experience like this can be the perfect segue into scientific reading. Books like The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle can be read and connections made to the outdoor experience. Make art part of the learning fun with a follow-up painting, pictures created with markers, or even cutting out a caterpillar and using it as a puppet to reenact the experience. Remember, anything can be science!

Below are just some of our ideas. Use these as a jumping off spot to create your own natural science lesson.

·      Observe the weather.  Keep a chart. Talk about the clothes we need to wear for this weather. Books like The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats can mirror a child’s experience and lead to discussion about what we do when the weather surprises us.

·      Tracks on the ground? Study them! What animal could have made them? What direction was it heading? Perhaps you can observe ants or grubs. Invite children to ask questions about their observations. This is inquiry-based learning!

·      Observe shadows. Mark a child’s shadow on the sidewalk using chalk. Return several times during the day to discover how the shadow changes. This will likely lead to the all-important “why” question.

·      Watch a worm go into the earth. Encourage children to ask questions about this and to draw what they see.This is reporting results!

·      Watch dandelions change over several days. Talk about how the dandelion looks on specific days. This helps children activate higher-order thinking skills as they consider change over time.

Now, it’s your turn! What will you do in the classroom or home? How can you encourage families to get involved in outdoor science?

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