How will your early childhood program celebrate the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s (NAEYC) annual “Week of the Young Child?” Explorations that relate to all five daily themes offer many opportunities to connect young children to science and engineering concepts, using math and technology to build their understandings in a science inquiry investigating a question or natural phenomena–STEM learning! An initial investigation into how we use our senses might be a good beginning for a longer science inquiry into one particular sense or how we can use technology to extend our senses.
Exploring the connections between the properties of materials and the kinds of sounds they make is a fun way to begin exploring how sound is made. “Becoming Attuned to Sound,” the Early Years column from Science and Children February 2014, describes children exploring how the size and tautness of a rubber band changes the sound it makes when plucked, and how to construct a simple rubber band musical instrument.
The “Young Children Investigate and Engineer Sound Through STEM” session at the 2017 annual NSTA conference provided hands-on experiences and inquiry for teachers to bring back to their children.
After making sound, children can represent it through drawing, or record it to share with others using an audio recording app on a phone or tablet. Maybe some of us are still using tape players!
The sense of taste is equally important as the other four for exploring the world but is not part of most science explorations because, for safety reasons, we separate lab work from anything we eat. So we will call it “cooking” to make sure young children understand that in this exploration all ingredients are safe to eat. Tasting is part of the Early Sprouts curriculum, an approach that engages young children in gardening, sensory exploration, and cooking throughout the school year. Try making and tasting their Hearty Apple & Raisin Cereal! While measuring the ingredients children get experience with the concept of volume and while cutting the apple they use an ancient technology–knives (Safety tip: precut apple slices are easy for children to further cut using butter knives). Read more about this approach in the July 2009 Young Children article.
Work Together Wednesday
Mixing materials together to make a change is fun work, and fun to do together. I wrote about the excitement children experience when they mix baking soda and water, and then baking soda and vinegar together, in the Early Years column in the April 2017 Science and Children. Although some may describe this cool, bubbling-up activity as a model of a volcano, it doesn’t represent any of the earth science processes that form volcanoes.
The NGSS Appendix F-Science and Engineering Practices in the NGSS describes models: “Models include diagrams, physical replicas, mathematical representations, analogies, and computer simulations. Although models do not correspond exactly to the real world, they bring certain features into focus while obscuring others. All models contain approximations and assumptions that limit the range of validity and predictive power, so it is important for students to recognize their limitations.” A model with too many limitations will reinforce children’s misconceptions, such as “Volcanoes are not hot.”
When using our sense of smell to distinguish between two very similar liquids, water and clear vinegar, and any time we sniff to smell a substance, the safe practice is to use the “wafting” technique to move just a little of the smell towards our nose where a sniff can tell us which liquid it is. Vinegar is an acid and has an intense smell so we don’t put our noses right up to it and take a big sniff! Learning the safe wafting technique will protect children if they ever decide to smell a substance with an even stronger, potentially nose-burning smell.
As children discover that bubbles will form only when they mix vinegar, not water, with the baking soda, they can help their friends make this observation too, working together to make the mixture bubble up and using magnifiers to see the tiny bubbles! They may want to explore other mixtures or ways to make bubbles.
Touch is a useful sense when exploring art materials whether you are finger painting, collaging with fabric, or working with potter’s clay. “What can this material do?” is the question children ask as they explore the properties of matter and shape the material to their purposes. Close observation of children while working with art materials will reveal how they feel about different sensory experiences. Marvin Bartel’s essay, “Clay for Toddlers and Preschoolers: How and why,” describes how a young child interacts with clay for the first time, and is “naturally fascinated, motivated, and empowered to keep experimenting.”
There are many vocabulary words to use while exploring the sense of touch. Children who use “soft” to describe both a blanket and a stone can learn the words “fuzzy” and “smooth” to explain what kind of soft they meant–“not hard” and “not rough.”
Families are so proud of their young children who use magnifiers to extend their sense of sight and can explain how they saw the tiniest bubbles. Young children are proud of themselves as they share their documentation of science and engineering explorations with their families. A family science event can start with an event suggested by NAEYC: Invite parents for a Family Friday breakfast, where children can prepare and share breakfast treats with their families! Maybe they will want to make the Early Sprouts recipe for Hearty Apple & Raisin Cereal.