Introducing guest blogger, Sarah Erdman, writing about toddlers

Watching children investigate the world inspires us to examine their methods, especially when we are raising them! Careful observation of infants and toddlers shows how we can support their developing ideas about the natural world. Guest blogger Sarah Erdman shares her approach to the explorations of her young son. Sarah Erdman is a museum professional, early childhood educator and Mom in Fairfax, Virginia. She provides programs for young children including Pop-Up Story Times and fieldtrips, programs for parents, educator workshops and consults for museums. She writes at her Cabinet of Curios blog

Welcome Sarah!

Infant explores a tub of objectsThe most meticulous and inquisitive scientist I know is my one year old son. He is tireless in his investigations. Will the cup still hit the ground if I drop it again? What happens when I push the door closed? What about this time? And this time?

Anyone who is around toddlers knows exactly what I’m talking about. We accept the fact that we will constantly be retrieving objects from strange places and patching up bumps and bruises. What we often forget is that this is the groundwork of scientific discovery. Each time they toss the cup from the highchair, they are going through a scientific process in miniature.

For me, “teaching science to a toddler” is not as clear cut a concept as it is with, say, kindergartners. When children get older it feels more natural to use scientific language and engage them in exploration, but what about for babies? Sure, you can gather them for a “science lesson” and some will be really interested, but what often works better is staying alert for the small science moments that happen throughout the day.

The most important thing to remember at this age is that you are setting the groundwork for how they will feel about science later on. They are looking at you for meaning and for how they should feel about what they are experiencing. If you react to the natural world with fear and disgust then they will pick up that vibe. However, if you can delight in both the beautiful and the “icky” then it will give them permission to enjoy it also. This doesn’t mean you have to delve into topics that you find personally frightening, just give them leeway to explore them on their own or with others and it will show them it is ok.

As they are exploring, tell them what they are seeing. They may not understand the words perfectly yet but every time you use them the meaning solidifies. I admit it, I sometimes feel a little silly as I exclaim again and again ‘The ball is OUT of the box! The ball is IN the box!” (to be honest the repetition is tiring). Then, I see the delight on his face as we play. I realize that he is now understanding the difference between “out” and “in” and I take heart that what I’m doing does matter.

Young toddler explores water after a rain.Finally, and this can be the trickiest one, within reason let them try out their ideas. Don’t worry, I’m not saying you have to let them throw the cup off the highchair repeatedly! But, stop for a second before you automatically say “no” and ask yourself,  “Is this really a problem?” Sure, it may make a mess, and it may not seem like “learning” as you know it, but it is letting them build their understanding of the world. Every time they take the top off the box and see that the ball is still inside, they “get it” that much more.

“Teaching science” to infants and toddlers does not mean a drastic change in your day-to-day plans or a lot of new equipment and specialized knowledge. My little scientist is already eager and willing to explore. All I have to do is support his natural curiosity…and clean up whatever mess he leaves behind.

Sarah Erdman

 

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One Comment

  1. Lauren
    Posted June 24, 2013 at 12:02 am | Permalink

    Lovely guest post. I know this is geared toward science, but almost any topic could be inserted, with regards to a parent’s role in laying the foundation for how his/her child will feel about certain topics and subjects. I’m not a parent, but as an educator I found this an important reminder that our own biases can often sneak out when working with any age group in any subject.

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