Why Create a Science Corner in Your Preschool Program?
by: Gail Leopold (admin)
Science on the preschool level does not have to delve deep into the scientific method or theory – but rather should present an interesting exposure of the scientific world to beginners seeing it all for the first time. There is no testing involved – just playing around with the amazing concepts that abound in our natural world. Concepts like color, nature, weather, water, magnets, animals and much more. Providing a special interest area or science learning center in your program can offer many hands-on opportunities and activities that will fascinate and teach curious children.
Preschool children are like little scientists – they are curious about the world around them. Every day is a new exploration for knowledge and growth. They want to know why clouds move and how spiders make webs and how a tiny seed can make a giant sunflower or why it rains. These ideas are all science and nature-related themes that are appropriate for the early childhood education curriculum.
Young children may not be able to process the information completely and are satisfied with very simple and basic answers but exposing them to these concepts will build the foundation for a deeper understanding of science in the world as they grow and mature. Being aware of insects and plants and weather and animals is the first building block of knowledge upon which more building blocks will be stacked. Knowledge comes in baby steps as children mature and their cognitive abilities grow.
Implementing a Science Corner or Science Center into your program, classroom or home is not difficult to do. Over time you will see the value in it as the children are repeatedly drawn into this area to explore, learn and discover new things. Choose a corner of the room or special area that has a window nearby, if possible. You can place a small table in this area or put up a few shelves or countertop type of setup. Add a few small chairs. The first things to gather are some related books. A small collection will do. Picture books help children to visualize concepts. Include age appropriate books related to the weather, dinosaurs, baby animals, gardening and plants, insects, planets and the solar system, color, sounds, and more.
Add some items that the children can touch and explore. You want this to be a hands-on center. Magnifying glasses are great for looking at rocks up close or to see a leaf in great detail or an insects eyes. During a Self-Awareness Unit you can show children how amazing their fingerprints are or the bumps on their tongues using a magnifying glass!
Children will bring the outdoors inside – that’s what they do and they need permission to do that. They enjoy rocks, leaves and finding treasures such as acorns and pinecones and broken Robin’s eggs. Allow them to add these special things to the Science Corner so they can have some ownership and pride in participating.
Have a few empty bug jars handy so the children can collect their findings from outside and look at them inside. An ant, a caterpillar, a worm or a ladybug will fascinate a child who has the opportunity to hold it and view it safely without fear. Add some magnets and things that are attracted to them (paper clips, etc). Things that make noise such as a bell or wind chimes can also be added and will provide a sensory component. Adding different textures such as sandpaper, tin foil, fur, or ice can be explored when you are working on a theme about the ‘Five Senses.’
Include some measuring spoons and cups, rulers, a kitchen scale, rubber bugs, a kaleidoscope, flashlight, spinning tops, tweezers, thermometer, a prism, a small mirror, a cloth or plastic measuring tape, fresh flowers, pencils and paper for drawing and whatever else comes along that is related to science and nature. Change the items out periodically and rotate with new items to keep it fresh and interesting to the children. The ideas are endless. The questions that these items inspire in preschoolers will also be endless and can lead to a variety of activities and lesson plans.
Have some live plants that children can water – teach them how often and how to do it. Plant some seeds and watch them grow. To eliminate jealousies over who gets to water the plants have this be the privilege of the ‘Child of the Week’ or ‘Student of the Week’. Along with live plants you may want to add a live ‘pet’. Some easy to care for pets include goldfish, hermit crabs, a frog or two, a hamster or a small lizard. Collecting some tadpoles from the local stream is a great learning activity. You can get all the information you’ll need about that activity by just going online and searching. These things make your Science Corner come alive so to speak. Children learn by observing and taking care of their pets. Allow them to vote on a name for the pet and maybe even take turns taking it home, if parents agree of course. If living things are not an option then pretend ones will do. Stuffed animals and realistic looking rubber bugs can be bought at most toy stores.
A Science Corner will also create opportunities for additional curriculum ideas. For example: if a child finds a worm on a rainy day or when digging in the garden and wants to know more you can create an entire lesson on the topic of WORMS! Here are some activity ideas:
Dance: Wiggle like a Worm while dancing to silly music.
Game: Find the W around the room. Cut out some W’s and hide them around the classroom and see who can find them and then count them (math).
Art: String Paintings – dip strings into paint and drag it across paper for wiggly designs.
Letters: W is for worm – practice making the letter W in several ways. One way is to finger-paint it, another is to trace it in salt or shaving cream or pudding. And yet another way is to trace it into the palm of each others hands or on the child’s back (add a tickle!)
Snack: Have gummy worms for a treat or have watermelon for W.
Math: Another extension of the watermelon is to glue ten seeds onto a paper and count them. Label the paper: ‘My Watermelon Seeds for W’ or something similar.
Literacy: Read a book about worms and why they are important.
Science: Make a Worm Farm!
Preschool lesson plans can be created for anything that sparks an interest in the children while they explore the Science Corner. Another way to grab their interest is to place the supplies needed for a special experiment or activity in the Science Learning Center before the children arrive. They will be curious when they see something new! They will naturally ask and want to know what the supplies are for.
Mixing Colors! Maybe you are doing a unit or theme on color and you place a few new eye droppers and a box of food coloring (empty of course!) in the Science Center. That will lead the children to the main table where you will all perform the experiment of mixing colors with eye droppers and water to create new colors. You can extend the activity by giving the children coffee filters to drop the colors onto to create a beautiful butterfly. Here is a link to this craft activity: http://www.crafts-for-all-seasons.com/coffee-filter-butterfly.html
Living Pets! You could place a new container of fish food in the Science Center and see who finds it first before introducing the newest class pet (a goldfish!) Kids love surprises and nothing more than a living thing to call their own.
Planting Seeds! Maybe it is time to plant a small garden – you could have some seed packets in the science corner which will lead the children to planting the seeds – that is an entire curriculum unit in itself but you can see how a small idea can grow into a big learning lesson for children. Or it can be simplified into just planting seeds for a Mother’s Day gift.
Cooking! You can put a box of brownie mix on the Science table to hint that you will be baking today – there are lots of science and math concepts found in that activity as well. A new kite? Yep – a wind and weather unit. Everything has the potential to become a lesson in the preschool world!
For the Birds! What will they guess if they find a new bag of birdseed in the science corner? A bird unit! Backyard bird feeders are a great way for children to observe nature in action. Add a few pair of binoculars to Science Corner so the kids can observe the birds from a distance when they feed. In this unit children can take responsibility for filling the feeder. They will learn the names of common birds in your area. Going on a bird hunt becomes an adventure when your little ones are searching for birds and nests in your neighborhood trees. They can count the birds, color pictures of birds, do birdseed art or craft activities, make pinecone bird feeders, read books about birds, sing songs about birds, and much more. Ask the children what will happen if they plant some of the bird seed? Find out by planting the bird seed! If you are really ambitious there is a very interesting program called ‘The Great Backyard Bird Count’ that you and the children can get involved in. The website is www.GBBC.com It is an annual four-day event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds and has a website full of interesting links.
Here is another example on how to extend an idea or science and nature theme into all of the preschool curriculum areas.
Zoo Animals (or substitute Farm Animals)
Field Trip: Visit a Zoo or Petting Farm or local Veterinarian (or invite one to visit!)
Art: Make paper bag puppets of lions, tigers, giraffes, etc.
Dramatic Play: Face paint the children and create zoo cages with streamers from ceiling to floor in the corners of the facility. Give the children yarn tails.
Music: Dance around as animals to some Zoo or animal songs.
Snack: Animal Crackers or eat Zoo Food (green leaves such as spinach or lettuce and fruits cut into small pieces.
Large Motor Skills: Play a game of ‘Monkey See Monkey Do’ (Simon Says)
Reading / Literacy: There are many books available about Zoo animals to read or make your own experience book based on the field trip to the Zoo. Add photos you take at the Zoo and have it laminated. The children can also take turns sharing it at home with their families.
Math: While at the Zoo have the children count how many zebras or and ask how many legs do you see? How many ears are there in the giraffe exhibit? How many penguins are there? Write the answers down and take a picture – you can create a counting book later that the children will love to read over and over – “Our Day at the Zoo”. (Make sure you take pictures of the children too – as they love to read about themselves!)
You get the idea?! Anything can become an extended lesson in the preschool curriculum because one thing leads to another and it’s all related somehow. Ask yourself how you can use your ‘main theme idea’ in the areas of art, math, movement, reading, writing, music, science, nature, etc. Then let the children explore these activities in their special Science Corner and you will be amazed at how they are drawn into the world of science and nature at such a young age!