In a post for the National Science Teachers Association I talked about looking out for the “small science moments” throughout the day. Toddlers will joyfully embrace science (especially if it is science related to gravity!) so all we have to do is watch what they are exploring and help them expand on it.
In our house we play with cars a lot. I mean, a LOT. Since he could express interest in something, my son has been obsessed with cars and trucks. He would sit at the corner of our street and watch and exclaim over each vehicle that went by. Inside, he wants to play with cars and trucks almost exclusively. I’m mostly fine with that, it uses his imagination, keeps him entertained. But…I’ll admit…I get tired of it after a while. So, I started looking for things that could take our car play to the “next level.”
First, we made a ramp. I figured it would be fun for a while but I can’t believe how long it has held his attention. He will run back and forth to his car basket and pull different vehicles to test on the ramp. I just let him explore his way, but I try to draw attention to the cars that are going fast or slow, which ones are going farther and just build in as much vocabulary as I can.
Our ramp is a serving tray turned upside down and propped up on a box or chair…pretty simple. You could also use a piece of cardboard or even a hardcover book.
After the success of the ramp, I looked around for other options. I finally had convinced myself to get rid of the various boxes and cans that I had saved (you can take the preschool teacher out of the classroom…) but I saved three and cut the bottoms out of them. Now, we had a series of “tunnels” to explore with.
Once again, I was shocked at how engrossing three containers could be. He had to take every car and see if they would fit. He’d hold it up and say “fit?” and we’d look together and exclaim about whether it fit or was “too big” or “too small.” Even though the tunnels have been around for a while, he still goes back and pulls them out to re-test if things fit or not.
I didn’t have to look hard for either of these “science moments,” they were right there for me to pounce on. Sometimes though, the moment is much more subtle..and may even look just like a mess.
One night, my son started grabbing crayons off his table and running into the kitchen. He would throw it down on the floor, exclaim with delight and then run in to get another one. I got up and followed him, fully intending to stop him and make him help clean up the mess.
Once I was closer, I could hear what he was saying. As he threw down each crayon he would yell “ROLL!” as the crayon spun across the floor. I watched as he tested each crayon to see if it would roll too.
If I had just stormed in there and demanded that he stopped, I would have cut off this amazing little moment of scientific discovery. Now, I still made him help me clean it up when he was done, but it wasn’t hurting anything to let him keep exploring. If I needed access to the kitchen, I could just redirect him to try it on his ramp instead.
That is what I always have to remind myself, is it really a problem or just somewhat inconvenient for me? If it isn’t a problem, I try to let it go forward…but I also feel fine putting a stop to it when it doesn’t work for us anymore.
It may take practice to spot a “science moment” and figure out what to do with it, but you will get there! Even if you just point it out and use some new language to describe it you are laying the ground work for them to keep loving and discovering science.