Friday, September 24, 2010

Science Learning through a Child's Eyes

Scientists use their curiosity about a particular problem to observe, test, verify and make discoveries. How does this curiosity develop? Apparently right from the start! Lise Elliot, author of Pink Brain, Blue Brain, notes that "psychologists have tracked babies' eye movements to gauge whether they understand such properties as gravity, speed, and momentum. Remarkably, they have found that they do!"

Babies explore through their senses. They look, touch, smell, taste and hear just about anything within their reach. You can learn a lot about your child's natural curiosity by observing his/her play and supporting it. A safe environment with objects of varying textures and sounds provides a beginning science exploration for infants. Their favorite object to look at is you! So spend lots of face-to-face time with them!

Older babies and toddlers continue to explore with their senses but now can explore using their increasing motor abilities. Given time to freely explore their environment, toddlers will begin to sort and classify objects. Provide containers of varying sizes and some everyday objects such as balls, large buttons, pom poms, ribbons, lids and bells. These types of open-ended materials foster cause and effect exploration that is basic physics.

Preschoolers tend to center on only one property of an object. For instance, exploring rocks may be about size or shape or color, but rarely about all three attributes. The preschooler's developing language allows him to share ideas and approach problems cooperatively. You can support the preschooler's curiosity by providing short explanations that extend learning opportunities. Try adding a challenge at the end of your explanation. "That rock is shiny when you shine the light on it. Let's try another rock to see if that one shines too."

The early school-age child prefers to solve problems alone or with her peers. The budding scientist is still curious and is more capable of experimentation and increasingly challenging problems. The rock exploration may now be about exploring weight or adding incline planes for experimentation about inertia and momentum as the rocks slide down.

The focus in our Family Resource Center was changed during our shutdown to offer resources related to the topic Making Connections to Science. You can find more information about supporting your child's science explorations both in the FRC and on our website through the end of November. Educating grown-ups about how children learn is a focus of the Museum; it is very important in supporting children's learning both here in the Museum and at home. Because part of our mission is to integrate art, math and science through play, we have chosen to highlight these focus areas in our FRC and on our website to better support the adult's role in the adult-child learning partnership. If you would like more information about science resources offered through the Museum, please contact Jayne Carpenter, Early Childhood Specialist (

For further reading about exploring science through play you may want to view these previous posts:

Exploring the Science of Air
Question, Predict, Try, Analyze and Retry
Explore Shadow Science
Finding Science in Play

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