I keep waiting for spring to arrive. Virginia seems to be the only place that allows you to experience all of the seasons in one week! Just last week we had 80’s and then 40’s and now we are hovering in the 30’s! Crazy weather!
This week I am off to Boston to do several workshops at the Early Childhood Conference for the Northeast Region of the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI). Nothing better than doing science when the weather is cold outside! Actually, as we wait for spring to arrive and the earth to wake from her long sleep, there is a lot we can do as we prepare to do science in the spring. One of the sessions this week will focus on inspiring teachers to use the outdoors to teach science in preschool.
Using the outdoor setting is perfect for students to hone their scientific process skills (especially the process skills associated with observing and measuring). Students can observe birds, or dig up soil and observe the components that make it up (they might even get lucky and find a wiggly decomposer to observe). Students can also observe the changes in plants during this time as well.
As we teach children to make good observations, we can use those observations to build their vocabulary. Take for example the idea of going on a rock hunt. As the children walk the property of your school, have them look for rocks to collect. You can either bring them back inside the classroom or if it is a nice day, do your observing outdoors! Teach them how to properly use a magnifying lens while they observe (we are not detectives-but scientists! Hold the magnifying lens closer to the object and move it away from the object to make it look larger!). As students are observing, have them tell you words to describe what they see with their eyes. Focus their attention on the color of the rock. What shape does the rock best resemble-is it more like a circle or a square? Have them generate words to describe how the rock feels. Is it hard or soft?
As the children generate their words, introduce other words that mean the same thing. For example, if a student says the rock is small, tell them another word for small could be tiny, little, or even compact. Post these words up on your word wall and continue to use them.
For measuring, have them count the number of birds they see in a 5 minute period. Have them describe the birds and count how many birds are similar colors, i.e. how many bluebirds do you see? What about red birds (robins)? They can also use non-standard items to measure the rocks they collect.
If your school has a garden area (check out a previous post on my old blog space about creating a sensory garden with plants), have the children plant some seeds (after you think the last frost has occured) and count how many days till the seeds sprout. Then measure the growth over time of the new plant.
Besides feeling better in the sunlight, being outdoors doing science is just fun! There are many science careers that spend a great deal of time outside. If you want to make connections to the different scientists that work outdoors, remember when you are working with plants our students are doing things like botanists. When they are observing rocks, they are geologists. As they describe birds, they are working like ornithologists. You and I both know that little learners love big words! So use them with them!
While doing science outdoors is a fabulous idea, remember the most important thing for our children is that they enjoy the learning process and can see themselves being a scientist! Be sure to tell them they can be anything they work hard at doing! If you do any outdoor science, please be sure to share! Can’t wait for spring!