Thursday, November 12, 2009

Exploring the Science of Air

Children's science inquiries are often based on their curiosity about their world. Exploring air is a natural science inquiry process for children. Their curiosity becomes the starting point to discovering what air and wind can do. Science for children under 6 years of age is more about how and what children feel when interacting with objects or their environment, rather than learning facts.

Air is all around us! You can't see air, but you can observe what air can do. You don't need to understand air in order to experiment with it. Wind and air can be powerful enough to evoke positive or negative feelings. How does it feel to have air blowing your hair? Wind in our faces evokes one type of feeling on a warm summer day, compared to a cold wintry day.

You can learn a lot about air by just playing with it. DCM has an entire exhibit area devoted to exploring air. AirWorks debuted in 2001. The research to develop this popular exhibit was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. Eight years later, we are still observing children's experimentation with basic air concepts and fine-tuning our air exhibits to invite their curiosity as they construct knowledge about what air can do.

Over the next few posts, we will look at some of our own active research about children's exploration with air and wind (moving air). In the meantime, do some research of your own. Here are two air explorations you and your child can do together at home. These simple activities can spark your child's interest and promote practice with basic scientific processes.
What do you see on a windy day? Find a flag flying in your community and try to observe it often. Is the flag blowing fast or slow? Is it blowing in the same direction as it was yesterday? Talk about what you see with your child. Every time you drive by the flag, ask your child, "What is the flag doing today?"

Feel the air. Collect empty squeezable bottles. Rinse them well and let them dry out. Have your child squeeze the bottle onto his arm and feel the air being forced out of the bottle. Ask your child "Is there anything in the bottle? What are you feeling on your arm?" (Source:

Be sure to make connections to your "at home" air and wind explorations the next time you visit the exhibits in AirWorks. Stay tuned! In our next post we'll look at some concepts about air and what you and your child can discover together.

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