Recently, I attended a “train-the-trainer” at the Louisville Science Center on science activities for young children called “Do Science Everywhere,” and that’s just what it was about: how to do science everywhere and how to show child care providers that many of the activities they are doing every day are opportunities to do science. During the course of the training it became clear that science activities are not hard and can be done with everyday supplies, which means saving money! That’s a big motivator these days.
There were two experiences from the training that had a real impact on me, and both had one clear message: that it is our job to “encourage wonder.” I’d like to write about the first, which was an “exhibit challenge” where the instructors gave each pair of partners a picture of a museum exhibit in the Science Center. We were to find the exhibit, play and determine what learning was taking place. The most impactful part was that we were also to come up with ways for child care providers to implement the same learning in their classroom. It was clear that we were not to come up with ways to “re-do” the same exhibit only on a smaller scale, but to think about what was being taught and how it can be taught in a different way using resources child care providers have access to.
My partner and I had the “Go H2O” exhibit. It was all about water, where it goes, how it flows and the cycle of evaporation and rain. It was demonstrated by blue balls that rolled down ramps controlled by interactive buttons. The balls were lifted by a mechanical contraption into the clouds where a tube would send them back down to the beginning. Learning about the water cycle was something we felt confident could be done in a center or a home environment, and we imagined providers could create a water center with tubs and/or sensory tables, complete with rocks, tubes and tunnels. Children could learn about evaporation by putting jars of water out and making daily measurements in a class journal. My partner and I also discussed taking the children outdoors and observing plants, recording the dryness or wetness of the ground around.
I would strongly encourage any parents, child care providers or teachers to look at museum exhibits in the same manner that my partner and I did. You can bring the same wonder and curiosity that comes from a museum to your program or home. Be a “co-explorer” with the children in your care. You don’t always have to give the answer the children are looking for or even know the answer for that matter. By exploring alongside the child to find the answers they are looking for, you are encouraging wonder.
A child in your program might say, “I know that worms come from the rain because every time it rains there are worms on the sidewalk.” While our first impulse might be to kindly explain where worms really come from without telling the child that he or she is wrong, being a co-explorer means we’re doing more. Plan some experiences for your classroom to find out if the child is right and do them together, maybe dig around in the dirt or watch the rain the next time it falls to see if worms are coming down. Always look for ways to allow children to make their own discoveries of the world around them. Children are born scientists; they already have lots of questions and want to explore. It is simply our job to let them.