Spotlight on Science

Build an Early Love of Science in Your Child

Science for Young ChildrenYoung children are natural scientists. Babies are exploring their environments from the day they are born, discovering how, where and by whom their needs will be met. As their five senses develop further outside the womb, they increase their observation and listening skills, and start connecting with their new world through smelling, tasting and touching everything within their reach.

As children grow, you can observe how they are naturally curious, wanting to gain more information to understand the world around them. When I went to elementary school, children’s curiosity was recognized and promoted, with science included as part of the overall curriculum.  In our daily science time we studied specific topics such as the planets, insects, the seasons and how things grow. In junior high and high school we were offered courses in topics that included earth science, biology, astronomy, and anatomy.

Today science is part of the acronym STEM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. This movement to focus on teaching skills in these content areas was started in 2011 because it was identified that too few college students are pursuing degrees in these fields. The concern grew that there would not be enough people qualified to work in these fields unless studies in these areas were prioritized. This included programs serving young children.

There is a movement that feels the arts need to be included as an additional study, changing the term to STEAM. I’ve attached a link that provides information about this controversy.

Personal observation about the word “stem”: When I was growing up, my grandfather had set up a rose trellis growing over a goldfish pond in his backyard. He would cut the roses and hand me a flower on a stem, reminding me to be careful of the thorns. My persistent curiosity led me to touch the thorns from time to time to see if they were always sharp. Opportunities to engage in science lessons can be found everywhere!

Science at Home - Experiments You Can Do With Your Child

These books have excellent science experiments that are fun, simple, and can be done right at home!

by Crystal Chatterton

Here is a book that mostly uses household ingredients for exploring science experiments. I really enjoy the section after each activity that the author calls “The Hows and Whys.” She explains why the experiments work in language that is easy to understand, especially if one does not have a scientific, technological or engineering background!

by Liz Lee Heinecke

This book provides 52 experiments that teach physics, chemistry, and biology concepts using tools and ingredients found in any kitchen. It introduces fundamental scientific principles with titles such as “Physics in Motion”, “Astonishing Liquids”, and “Polymers, Colloids and Misbehaving Materials.” But don’t be afraid of the terminology – the book was created by a mom and the scientist author!

by Cristina Herkert Schul

The author of this book includes an introduction explaining what engineers do, and what someone needs to know to become an engineer. There are 50+ projects using many materials found in the home, or that cost little if they need to be purchased. Each project includes photos of the materials needed and what you would do with them. It’s amazing the knowledge that families can learn together by using readily available hands-on materials to explore scientific and engineering concepts!

Free and Low-Cost Science Activities

Free and low cost activities that build children’s observation skills and sense of wonder in the natural world:

  1. Take your children on a walk to look for collecting rocks and pebbles around your yard or neighborhood. Bring a bag that can be used to carry any that are an appropriate size to collect. Examine each pebble/specimen and discuss it together, encouraging your children to describe it in detail such as by color, shape, texture, and size. At home compare what was collected. They are fun to paint with water, and also to color with crayons, markers or paint for a home display.
  2. Explore the properties of water (solid, liquid, gas) with your children by filling an ice cube tray and watching the water turn to ice by taking it out of the freezer and checking it every few hours. Once it has turned to ice (a solid), take out several ice cubes to use for experiments. Put one ice cube in a container that will sit at natural room temperature. Put one ice cube in a container that can be placed safely under a lamp or other heat source. When possible, put an ice cube in a container outdoors to observe what happens in that environment.
    1. Observe the ice cubes as they melt and discuss the factors that influence their rate of melting:
      1. location, having a heat or no heat source, temperature indoors and outdoors.
    2. When the ice cubes have become liquid again, put the water in a shallow pan or tea kettle and, in a way that is safe for the children, provide them with the opportunity to see how the liquid turns to steam (a gas) when heated.
  3.  Fill a sink or bathtub with water and collect items around the house such as plastic containers of different sizes, a spoon, small plastic toys, etc. Draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper and on one side of the line write Float, and on the other side write Sink. Have your children put one item in the water at a time, and you can write the name of the object that floats or sinks in the correct column based on their observations.

Karen is an Early Childhood Specialist with more than 40 years of experience in teaching, consulting, and curriculum development for young children.

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