“Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.”- Educator, Horace Mann
The great outdoors is your child’s “other” classroom. Studies are showing that young children need to interact with natural materials in the real world around them to develop higher order thinking and problem solving skills. Exploring with every day materials such as water, sticks, sand and clay help children construct their own knowledge about how these elements work.
Sadly, it is often thought that children need to do worksheets and other pencil and paper activities to show learning. However, most pencil and paper tasks only test what children know they do not teach. They do not build knowledge, problem solving or thinking skills in the same way an open-ended, challenging, thought-provoking activity can. Why? One reason is that typically a workbook task has a “right” answer. Sadly, young children learn very quickly what it feels like to be “wrong” and can stop taking the risks of thinking that are core to learning and growing.
But there is another reason. A brain researcher, Dr. Jack Shonkoff of Harvard University says “A child’s interactions with the world determine how brain connections are formed, providing either a strong or weak foundation for all future health and learning.” We could give children a worksheet and ask them to circle all the items they think go in the water. But the better way is to take children outside with a container of water and have them experiment with what floats and sinks, to notice evaporation on a sidewalk in the sun or blow bubbles. These REAL activities are not only educational but also fun.
If you are wondering what you can do to support your child’s learning…take your child outside for explorations with the STEAM curriculum areas. What is STEAM? It is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math. These may sound like big words for your little child but they are at the core of good education and development.
Over the next few blogs we will explore these vital topics. This blog focuses on the first three letters: STE: Science, Technology and Engineering.
Here are few activities you can try!
Science, Technology and Engineering- Explorations Outside
As the weather permits, take your child outside for some scientific (and fun) water activities!
• Paint IT with water! Get out some big buckets, brushes and sponges to paint with water. Your child will be exploring the concepts of wet and dry, evaporation and heat! “Paint” the sidewalk, the plants the building…with water and observe how the water makes the colors of each object change and darken. Have your child watch carefully because soon the warm sunshine will change everything back to normal!
• Evaporate and Measure IT! After your child has discovered the process of evaporation with the Paint activity she is ready to measure and explore evaporation scientifically. Make puddles! Invite children to place in different places in the sun and some in the shade. Have a race! Ask your child to predict which puddles will evaporate first and last. Then ask, WHY? Visit the puddles throughout the day (or days) to observe the evaporation in action. Your child can record the “shrinking” of the puddles by using chalk to draw the circumference of the starting puddle, and then each smaller and smaller puddle as it evaporates. At the end she will have a “map” of concentric puddle circles…this is the “T” for technology part of STEAM!
• Bubble and Engineer It! Outdoor exploration has to include bubble-blowing experiments. This activity combines science and engineering. Bring outside a big container of water and a variety of household and found objects to explore as bubble makers. Good things to try are: strainers and sieves, slotted spoons, etc. Circle of string and yarn work well too. To make a super bubble mix, combine a good quality dish detergent with 2 tablespoons of glycerin (available in the pharmacy). The glycerin gives the bubbles elasticity and staying power for a much more rewarding bubble experience for kids. Then step back and let your child explore without any direction from you. She will be Engineering her own devices!
• Float It, Record It! Have a sink and float party outside or inside in the tub. Fill a large container of water and invite your child to find a variety of objects she wants to test for sinking or floating. Use Technology skills by asking your child to make two rows of objects, one row for those things she predicts will sink and the other row for those items she thinks will float. Use your cell phone to take a photo of her prediction rows. Then have her test it out and compare her findings with the original photo. Any surprises? Take a photo of the rows of the results too. You are teaching your child about using technology to record her observations and experiments.
• Build It!Extend the sink and float experiment by having your child use Engineering skills to build something out of paper that will float! She can first explore floating a plain piece of paper in water. Will a piece of paper float?Then ask, How can you change its shape to make it float?Step back and let your child explore folding, crumpling, bending the paper into different shapes. She will soon see what works best.
The above activities are learning at its best. They are all based on a young child thinks and learns. What your child learns in these types of activities will become part of her core understandings that will last a lifetime. She will be learning how to problem solve and experiment. This is much more important and useful that drawing a circle around all the things that start with the letter “b” on a worksheet!