Some Simple Science-ing for Young Children Lori Carraway, Ph.D. Washington State University, Cooperative Extension, Snohomish County Five-year-old Garrett was trying to balance metal weights on a balance scale. He just couldn’t find a combination of weights to equal the large one he’d placed on the left dish. Nothing was working and he was getting frustrated. He sighed. He thought. He looked across the room. He thought some more. He rushed to the aquarium, grabbed big a handful of gravel and returned to the balance scale -dripping water all the way back. Finally, he sprinkled wet gravel on the empty dish until the scale balanced perfectly. He smiled. Garrett - young engineer, mathematician, scientist, problem-solver! Preschool innovator! Children need to solve problems and manipulate objects and ideas. Exploring unfamiliar objects, combining new materials, taking things apart, and uncovering relationships helps them learn how the world works. Young scientists blossom when they see differently, conduct experiments, question, and try new things. The most neglected area in many early childhood classrooms is the Science Center. Yet, science is the day-to-day “stuff” that intrigues young children. Scienceing means questioning, observing, recording, noticing similarities and differences, observing changes, detecting relationships, discovering how things work, and making changes – skills that all children need to function well in the world. With safety guidelines, adult supervision, and encouragement, young scientists use natural curiosity in the “laboratory” of life. (Big white T-shirts make great “lab coats”). Teachers can nurture scientific skills even if they don’t have all the answers. So, if you are interested in improving your science curriculum, begin simply but begin soon! Here are some ideas: 1. Capture the moment. (Biology). When children find a frog, roly-poly bugs, moths, or an anthill, offer a magnifying glass or microscope for looking very closely. If they notice birds building a nest, provide binoculars and help them make regular observations to record what they see. Compare observations over time. Ask children to predict what might happen next (baby birds?) 2. Introduce measurement. (Math). Offer measuring tapes, rulers, thermometers, balance scales, measuring cups, clocks, hour-glasses, stand-on scales and help children weigh and measure everything...shoes, feet, living plants, table heights, how many minutes it takes to eat lunch, how long each child naps, etc. Record measurements, repeat often, and discuss what changes and what stay the same. 3. Take things apart. (Technology) When children ask, “How does this work?” help them to find out. Provide non-working toasters, clocks, VCR’s, tape recorders, radios and other appliances to disassemble. Remove electrical cords and establish guidelines for taking things apart (only with adult supervision, at this table, no more than 2 children at a time, etc.). Caregivers can teach safe use of tools at disassembly stations where screwdrivers, pliers, and bins for sorting screws and small parts are stored. 4. Watch the wind. (Weather systems) Use balloons, flags, hair dryers, wind chimes, fans, windsocks, and pinwheels to learn about wind. Compare cloud and tree limb movements on windy and calm days. 5. Move things around. (Physics) Connect PVC pipes to roll marbles or running water downhill to fill containers or connect with other pipes. Use pulleys to move buckets of dirt across a yard. Create wheeled platforms to move heavy objects. Help children set up ramps at different angles to roll Matchbox cars. Ask them to predict how far cars will roll. Mark predictions with tape and measure the actual distances. Compare. Change the length and angles of ramps and compare results. 6. Grow things (Horticulture). Grow different types of beans in wet cotton and plastic bags. Tape some to a window and some in a closet. Observe and photograph (or draw) sprouting once a week. Discuss differences in growth patterns and what plants need to grow. Measure and graph plant heights. Plant a garden and eat harvested vegetables. Discuss what animals and plants need for growing well. 7. Change things (Chemistry). Observe frozen and boiling water and steam. Discuss what happens when water changes state. Help children make Jell-O or ice cream. Ask them to predict the effects of mixing cinnamon, salt, sugar, clean sand, and dirt into water. Experiment and draw results. 8. Stimulate a sense of wonder (Scientific Method). Ask open-ended questions like “I wonder what might happen if...” or “If we change the temperature (or size, or shape, or location), what do you think will happen?” Answer their questions by asking, “How might we find out?” Encourage predictions. Offer materials for experiments. Test out ideas. Discuss results. Ask more open-ended questions. Teachers do not need to have all the answers. What you need are curiosity, a little planning, some interesting “stuff,” and pleasure in watching young scientists develop. Happy Science-ing! Enjoy!