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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Children Armed with Science!

            I think I’m going to need to change up the format of these blog posts a little; I don’t have time to write a new post every day in addition to preschool, guitar lessons, taekwondo, my own writing goals, and all the mom/wife/ homemaker responsibilities. We’ll have to see how it goes over the next few days.
            Today is Tuesday, which means I’m going to talk about teaching and kids. I love science. Always have. I’m fascinated by biology and physics, chemistry and astronomy in particular. So I talk about those things with my preschoolers. Last summer I even taught a week long science camp. It was originally for kids ages 5-8, but it ended up being 3-8. We had a great time. The camp was five days long, and we spent one day on each of Newton’s 3 laws of motion, one day on natural science, and one day on space and aeronautics.
            By the end of that camp, every child knew that force divided by mass equaled acceleration and that meant how hard divided by how heavy equaled how fast or slow. They knew that a light ball pushed hard would go much further than a heavy ball pushed gently. They dug up dinosaurs with actual paleontology tools. They learned that a small child pushing a larger one on a skateboard (wearing a helmet and pads, of course) goes more slowly than a large child pushing a small one on a skateboard (again, with helmet and pads).
            We talk about mixing colors with food coloring in vinegar and more food coloring wrapped in a packet with baking soda. That way we learn blue and yellow make green while also learning that mixing an acid and a base makes a gaseous chemical reaction. Trust me, they don’t forget it. When acid monsters do battle for base candy, it’s memorable.
One of my favorite quotes from the Kids Quotes page is the little girl singing about photosyphilis and how plants are doing it. She only sang it like that once, and then got it right every other time as photosynthesis and knew that meant when plants take sunlight and turn it into food. We have probably 30 silly songs about all different aspects of life and science. And since I have a degree in theater, I have no shame in letting loose and being a goof. And the kids remember it.
Why do I spend so much time telling you all this? Because our children are smarter than we think. They understand far more than we give them credit for, and at this tender age their minds are still expanding rapidly. Not all of them excel in the same ways, but they are more willing to learn and be engaged right now than they ever will be again. And I love to exploit that. They can’t always articulate back to me what we’re talking about, especially if there are a lot of science words, but they can demonstrate the concept when given the chance. We play games all the time, sometimes only actually finishing one or two of the four printed worksheets I’ve prepared because we’re so busy with the fun.
Today, for example, we were talking about our sense of hearing. I love going through the five senses with the kids because there’s almost no limit to how you can demonstrate the power of each sense. The first game we played, I stood behind a wall and made sounds, and they would have to guess what I was using. Acoustic guitar was first, which they got right away, and then we sang the alphabet song while I played along. Then I played the flute. It took a few guesses extra, but they recognized it. I really ham it up when they’re right, asking “How did you know that? Could you see me?” in my most exaggerated voice. They laugh. Then we did electric bass, xylophone, doorbell, telephone, and I brought my dogs in to bark. They got it every time.
Then I blindfolded each child and stood somewhere in the room. I told them to point to me, and asked how they knew where I was when they couldn’t see me. “With our ears!” one little boy shouted, waving his arms. “My ears talked to my brain and told me where your words were standing!” Yep. That’s exactly right.
Don’t underestimate your children. The world is big and wide, with an abundance of sensory input. Some of it is scary, some wonderful, and some inexplicable to them when for us it becomes so much background noise. Children need us to talk to them about the world around us. They also need us to listen. The third game we played had one child blindfolded and all the others talking while I tried to give the blindfolded child directions. “Can you hear me?” I asked. No response. After I quieted all the children, I asked them, “Why didn’t he take three steps towards me?”
“He couldn’t hear you. We was too loud,” came the answer.
The point of the lesson was, for them, that if they were talking while I was teaching that the other kids couldn’t hear me. The point of the lesson for me was if I can’t quiet the background noise in my life once in a while, I’ll never hear the voices trying to give me, or ask me for, help. We are busy. Trust me, I know what busy feels like. If you ever want to feel better about your day or your life, ask me about my schedule. I need to be better about taking time to shut down the noise of the world and talk to my kids about what’s going on in their lives. What they feel. What they think. Find out more about things they’re interested in and give them opportunities to work on those.
Have you ever read the book “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell? Great book. It isn’t about parenting, it’s about people who grew up to be hugely successful. And it postulates that the reason they are so successful in a specific area is because of how they took advantage of the opportunities they had. Great book, very interesting read. I think every parent should read it. “Outliers” made me think about how I was teaching and lead me to expand my lesson plans. We don’t stop after triangle, circle, square, and rectangle. We go on past rhombus, trapezoid, and parallelogram. If you need a dose of adorable, get your three year old to say parallelogram.
Rock paper scissors is a great way to teach cause and effect. Rock paper scissors lizard Spock is even more fun. Play the alphabet game when you’re in the car, but play it for candy. Sing silly songs. Tell your kids strange but true facts. You will be amazed at all the random things you remember from school once you start dredging it up. Enjoy your children. They are awesome.
But put boundaries up for them. After my sons designed an inertia experiment which involved them crashing into each other headlong on their bikes, I taught them the hard and fast rule of "no human experimentation." Be specific.
And whoever put this sign up near Yellowstone, WY, is my hero. Even though J is harder to find than X, thanks to every EXIT sign.

1 comment:

  1. I HATE it when I talk about preschool with people around here, and they express their "opinion" (read: a passive aggressive lecture from them to me about why I'm wrong about expecting my children to read at 3 years old or whatever the topic may be) about how kids need to be kids and just play play play and they'll learn to read in kindergarten. I agree. Kids need to play. But they need to not be underestimated. And they LOVE learning. Why would anyone stop that because they should 'be kids'- isn't learning PART of being a kid?