Recently, I was lucky enough to join my family for a seaside trip to South Carolina. After months of talking about the sandy beaches and salty ocean, my preschool-aged niece was excited to finally experience everything she had heard about with her own five senses! No matter how often we described the feeling of sand between our toes or the weightlessness of riding the waves in the Atlantic, it was difficult for her to make connections without actually experiencing it herself. All week, I could see these new experiences providing her with rich language, early science concepts, and filling her brain with background knowledge she will carry with her for years to come.
We know children learn best through hands-on activities. By providing opportunities that allow them to engage all of their senses, they are able to have meaningful experiences that help build connections to the real world. So how do we help those children who have yet to visit the beach experience these elements in authentic and meaningful ways? Bring it to the classroom, of course! Here are some awesome ways to bring seaside fun and learning into their everyday environment:
Sand can be an easy addition to any sensory table! You can find play sand in most toy or home improvement stores. Kinetic sand on table top trays can be a great alternative for classrooms without a sensory table. Add a variety of tools & buckets from a local dollar store, and even some water to experiment with. The children can create and build just like they are at the beach!
Know any friends or family heading to the beach? Ask them to bring back a bag full of shells! Adding real shells to your math or science learning area with some magnifying glasses and scales opens up an opportunity to explore math concepts and increase observation skills. Also, using descriptive words to talk about shell textures can help build rich language.
Did you know the largest Great White Shark recorded was 20 feet long? Most are only about 13 feet long, which is still pretty giant compared to the children in our classrooms! Using painters tape, create a 13 foot long outline of a shark on your classroom or hallway floor, allowing your students to see just how huge a shark would be if they encountered one in real life. Allow them to use a variety of classroom materials to explore measurement. They will love answering questions such as “How many Legos long is this shark?”
Set up some experimentation of salt water vs. fresh water. Children can do a little taste-testing, and play with the idea of “What sinks and what floats?” using different materials in the classroom. I love this salt water experiment.
When we bring in authentic materials, it helps children connect concepts and understand our learning themes in a tangible and meaningful way!
Recently I had the opportunity to observe a teacher during outside time. This teacher was actively engaged with the children as she supervised her class. She took the time to stop and interact with them, constantly asking open-ended questions. As she walked around the playground she made comments to a small group of children using funnels and buckets in the sand box. At her next stop she helped children collect rocks and then sort them. She helped as children gathered and tossed leaves up in the air to watch them swirl around in the wind. The children giggled as she joined them in their shadow dancing/jumping game.
As I debriefed with the teacher after the observation, one of the areas in which she requested support was science. I asked about past activities. Which activities she felt went well, which activities didn’t go well and why. With excitement in her tone, she dove right into telling me about her butterfly project last spring and how the children loved observing the daily progress of the transformation to the release of them on the playground. Then she discussed a volcano explosion demonstration that flopped. I believe reflection is an important part of the planning/teaching process in ECE (and even life in general). Understanding which element was successful or unsuccessful, why it went wrong, or how it could have been done differently is a great strategy for an educator to continuously grow in this field. After reflecting for a few moments, she said the volcano flopped because the children weren’t interested in it. As we began to problem-solve WHY the children weren’t as interested in the volcano as they were in the butterflies, she stated, “Because it’s not a real life experience for them. It’s not something they see in their everyday world.” I immediately thought, BINGO! If it’s not meaningful to children, they’re not going to be engaged. One of my favorite things in ECE is adapting and even disguising learning concepts through topics of interest for children and of course play interactions.
As I read her my notes from the playground observation, she realized science was everywhere! Through her engagement and open-ended questions she was already fostering those early science skills. As we continued to reflect on that morning, she was able to make connection between those activities and the Early Learning and Development Standards (ELDS). Here’s what we discovered:
Cognition and General Knowledge: Sub-domain: Science
Exploring sand using funnels and buckets= ELDS strand: Science inquiry and application. Topic: Cause and effect
Collecting and sorting rocks = ELDS strand: Science inquiry and application. Topic: Inquiry
Investigating leaves being tossed in the air= ELDS strand: Earth and space science. Topic: Explorations of the natural world
Jumping shadows= ELDS strand: Physical science. Topic: Explorations of energy
Science in early childhood education is fostering a world FULL of wonder. While creating this world of wonder, your classroom doesn’t have to look like a science fair. So when you’re planning for your children, reflect on what is happening around them. What do you see them interested in and what are they asking questions about? What are they experiencing in their everyday world and how can you expand on it?
There is a lot of pressure on young children these days to become expert mathematicians at an early age. Typically, I’ve found that when a child feels this pressure it creates stress. When a child feels stressed they shut down and disengage. If educators can intentionally incorporate math concepts through everyday activities, the stress on children is eliminated.
Math in early childhood education has many stages that come together to create its foundation. It’s a process for children. Once they develop one math concept, they are ready to build upon it or move along to the next level of this process. In my previous math blog we highlighted math concepts and everyday activities that were taking place in our infant and toddler classrooms. As we build upon that infant and toddler math foundation, let’s focus on the everyday activities that occur in preschool classrooms. Remember, when we think outside the math center box, we realize math concepts can be intertwined throughout every classroom area/activity, during daily routines, and even transitions. All it takes is a little intentional teaching and teacher-child engagement.
Let’s think about a few math staples that can be introduced and strengthened during this process of development. First, we need to recognize there is a difference between counting and quantifying. This is how I think of it: counting is verbalizing the number words, which is a big part of the process, but quantifying is the end product, when the child determines how many are actually in the set.
Rote counting—children verbally putting the number words in order (usually memorized, not necessarily quantifying objects).
Rote counting activities outside the math area are usually originated from the intentional teacher: “I wonder how long it takes us to walk down the hall. Help me count.” or “I wonder what’s the highest number you (we) can count to?”
Cooking activities or turn-taking structures. Allowing each child to stir during the cooking activity for 10 seconds.
One-to-one correspondence/principle—a child matches one object to each object in a set (i.e., ice cube tray and pom-pom activity) or the child matches one number word to one object (i.e., touching each dot on the die as they say the number word).
Everyday activities such as allowing children to help count chairs at the snack table, crackers as you pass them out, or heads as you transition outside will strengthen this skill.
When I was in the classroom, I always found that young children were more successful grasping one-to-one correspondence/principle when counting large objects or utilizing gross motor motions.
Cardinally—the stage when a child realizes the last number counted represents the total amount in the set.
Once you begin observing children quantifying, asking questions such as: “How many spaces are left?”, or “How many did you count?” will promote and support the cardinally stage.
Graphing activities are a great way to incorporate many mathematical milestones. While working with graphs children are quantifying and incorporating math vocabulary words such as “more,” “less,” and “least.”
Patterning— the ability to create or continue a repeated format or design.
A few everyday patterning activities would be clapping out patterns, building with Legos, and at times seating arrangements for lunch or group time (i.e., patterning children themselves by clothes or shoes).
Making math part of children’s everyday life is a great way to support their development. What other ways can you incorporate math concepts into your daily schedule?
Math skills can be introduced and reinforced in every classroom at every age. Developing math skills is a process which has many stages and requires foundation building. In fact, as early as infancy, math vocabulary and counting skills can be introduced through teacher modeling. Sounds crazy, but it’s true; language comprehension begins in infancy. Think about some of those finger play songs you sing and board books you’re reading to infants. Those activities are introducing math vocabulary, number words, and quantifying—and it’s not even taking place at the math center. When we think outside the math center box, we realize math concepts can be intertwined throughout every classroom area/activity, during daily routines, and even transitions. All it takes is a little intentional teaching and teacher-child engagement.
Let’s think about a few math staples that can be introduced and strengthened during this process of development. Here are some of the concepts you should be aware of, and some examples to support building the foundation for math with infants and toddlers:
Sorting—separating objects into groups according to attributes (i.e., sorting colored teddy bears could be done by grouping them into color sets).
Teachers can enhance sorting skills as they include fun facts into everyday conversations. For example, helping children organize or make sets by grouping them according to what color shirt they are wearing, Velcro shoes verses shoes that tie, or even materials grouped by texture (i.e., soft, hard, smooth, rough).
Global stage—child makes set perceptually (i.e., eye-balling it, taking a handful).
Helping children understand and construct math vocabulary can be done almost anytime and at any age. Think about that toddler in the dumping stage or a child engaged in a sorting activity. The intentional teacher will make comments or ask questions that provoke mathematical vocabulary words. For example, “Which pile do you think has more?” “When you remove a handful, you’re decreasing the amount in the pile,” and “Which piles look/are equal?” These interactions can also be relevant when the child is engaged in a sorting activity.
Rote counting—children verbally putting the number words in order (usually memorized, not necessarily quantifying objects).
A common rote counting activity for infants could be “1, 2, and 3, so big” or “1, 2, peek-a-boo.” As children get older the intentional teacher builds on those skills through interactions such as, “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, JUMP!”, and of course counting books.
Spatial reasoning—the ability to understand and remember the spatial relations among objects.
Interacting with puzzles, setting out chairs at snack time, exploring with and climbing inside boxes, and even giving children the opportunty to independently self-feed are all activities that will support spatial reasoning skills.
Children start to build a foundation for math at a very young age. These skills can be introduced and reinforced in every classroom area, during everyday transitions or routines, and with every age group. How are you supporting math skills outside the math center?
Stay tuned for Math in the Early Years Part 2: Continuing to strengthen the foundation for quantifying in preschool.
We often encourage children to be scientists. We ask open-ended questions to encourage the children to hypothesize. We ask children to predict outcomes and graph responses. But some teachers struggle with science, thinking of their own experiences dissecting worms or experimenting with magnets. But science is everywhere! And it’s appropriate for every age group, even infants and toddlers.
I get super excited when thinking about science in early childhood. Physics and chemistry aren’t just topics for high school. With infants and toddlers, physics is all about the basics: how can I make the ball move? Can I roll it with my hands? If I put this block at an angle, will the car roll down? I want to get on the slide. How do I move the other child to make room for me?
And we’re doing chemistry with infants and toddlers every day. If physics is how to make something move, chemistry is about how to make something change. When working with play dough, how can I make it flat? When feeding myself food, what happens when I mix the mashed potatoes with the applesauce?
Science is more than dissection and magnets. It can be as simple as rolling a ball or as complex as a cooking experiment. It can also be about exploring what is unfamiliar. Once when I was observing in a classroom, a child came over to me and started touching my arms, face and hair. Soon, more children came over. The teachers looked a little nervous but I assured them it was okay for the children to explore. Because I looked different than the teachers the children saw every day, they were curious. This is science. Even though the children were not verbalizing their thoughts, I can imagine they were hypothesizing what my hair felt like. They may have been comparing the feeling to past experiences. They may have been thinking this does not feel like my teacher’s hair.
By allowing children to explore we are encouraging children to think beyond their current knowledge. Simply by rolling a ball, exploring new foods (or new people!), we are inspiring scientific thinking that will help them their whole life.
If you were to ask a group if they were good at reading, there would be very few who would admit to not reading well. In contrast, if you were to ask about their comfort level with math and science, many would say that they harbor a strong dislike for these subjects. Fewer people value or feel competent in math and science and it is socially acceptable. It’s a sad fact, and this attitude often surfaces first in school!
Many of us remember the anxiety of timed tests, conceptual learning through books and worksheets and the droning lectures we often received in math and science classes. Adults can unintentionally undermine children’s math and science ability and attitudes when they say things like, “Math is hard,” or, “I didn’t like science, either, when I was in school.” Although you can’t make a child enjoy science and math, you can encourage them to try new things and appreciate the value in everyday experiences.
Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) is an exciting new initiative in the afterschool field. Many afterschool teachers are nervous about tackling science and math activities because they feel that they have to have all the answers. But STEM is not focused on concepts and vocabulary! STEM is about informal learning building on children’s interests. It’s about the experience and being able to answer the question: What would happen if? Or, what do you think? It’s hands on and minds on, where children can openly manipulate materials without a recipe or demonstration by an adult. By providing these informal experiences, it’s hoped that children will gain a greater understanding and make connections when they hear concepts taught during the school day. Best of all, it’s fun!
How can we begin to foster this sense of wonder in school age children? 4C for Children offers many STEM workshops, which you can view and register for on our online catalog (under “School-age”). Time Warner Cable has also invested in Connect a Million Minds, a STEM project where teachers and parents can browse countless opportunities for learning. It’s speculated that 80 percent of jobs will require math and science skills in the next decade. In order to prepare children with 21st century skills, it is our job to provide STEM learning that is exciting, creative and fun.