Children learn best when they are involved in the process. A big part of the preschool day is work time. Students have one hour of uninterrupted time to choose which areas of the classroom they want to explore and play, while teachers facilitate and extend the children's learning. Learning through play is the cornerstone of early childhood education. Hands-on experiences – seeing, feeling, hearing, and asking and answering questions – help make the learning meaningful. Teaching science is no exception. Doing experiments and giving students hands-on experience makes learning science fun. Children's interests guide the kinds of experiments we do in our classroom, which can also be done at home.
An easy and fun activity I've done in my classroom the past couple of winters is the snowstorm in a jar:
1) Students measure and pour baby oil to fill ¾ of a jar. 2) Mix white paint with water and fill the jar the rest of the way, leaving a little room at the top in case of spillage.3) Add silver glitter and/or a couple drops of blue food coloring. optional 4) Once the white paint settles at the bottom of the jar, add one effervescent antacid tablet. I use a generic brand of Alka Seltzer, break them in half and let students take turns dropping the tablets into the jar. 5) Observe what happens. I usually have students predict what will happen before we drop the tablet. They also get opportunities to describe, write and draw what we did and what they saw. I ask what the snowstorm in a jar reminds them of. Students have used rich vocabulary to describe what they saw: waterfall, tornado, hurricane, bubbles. One year a student taught me a new word: malagon. "It's a huge wave that knocks down buildings." We researched it, and he was right! This particular student went to the Museum of Science and Industry often with his parents.
You don't have to go all the way to Chicago to learn about science. Rockford offers myriad opportunities to learn about science and nature from museums like the Discovery Center Museum and the Burpee Museum of Natural History to parks and trails at Klehm Arboretum & Botanic Garden and the Atwood Center. We also have the Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens and Anderson Japanese Gardens. The Rock River Water Reclamation District office on Kishwaukee Street has an amazing aquarium where you can see animals native to the Rock River Valley – and it's free!
And of course there are simple experiments you can do at home like the snowstorm in a jar. Pinterest and YouTube are great resources for science ideas. The main objective is to involve the kids, allow them to use critical thinking, ask how, what, and why questions, and use the experiments to answer those questions. Making the learning hands-on also makes it meaningful and fun.
This blog post is part of a series celebrating the Week of the Young Child. The WOYC is an annual celebration sponsored by the National Association for the Education of Young Children to focus public attention on early learning, young children, their teachers, families and communities.
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