I don’t make assumptions about what my children will learn from an activity. I don’t presume that they will learn anything, I’m happy if they are absorbed and having fun.
Sometimes a simple activity can unexpectedly become a rich learning experience full of questions and discoveries. These for me are precious moments. I have recently become aware that the simplest craft activities lead us unexpectedly into an exploration of scientific concepts. For example,we recently acquired a movie reel canister, perfect for paint rolling . I gave the girls a small box of marbles and small balls (a ping-pong eyeball and a golf ball) and a few pots of paint. The discussion that ensued was interesting.
Child 1 : 5-years-old Child 2 : 3-years-old.
Child 1: The eyeballs go much slower. I think because the eyeball is bigger it goes much slower but the marble is smaller so it goes faster.
Child 2: It’s too sticky
Why do you think it is sticky?
Child 2: Maybe there’s too much paint.
Child 1: This one is not as sticky as the other one but it is much bigger. Maybe it’s because I didn’t put as much paint on.
What makes the 2 balls different?
Child 1: One is bumpy and one is smooth…………..but that would make it slower.
It gets stuck and the other one goes really fast. Maybe the material it is made from is sticky but now that we don’t have as much paint on, it goes fast. Perhaps the paint sticks to the material and stops it slipping and sliding.
Maybe because the golf ball is hard it doesn’t stick to the paper, maybe the paint doesn’t like it and slips off.
When we went to wash the balls we checked to see which would float.
Child 1: The golf ball and the marble sink and the eyeball floats. This one floats because it is all filled up with air.
Child 2: This one sinks because it is bigger…………………….. but what about the marble, that sinks?
Child 1: It is because it is heavier.
The connection between the mass of the ball and how fast it travelled did not register but there are many other projects we can explore to help them work it out.
These incidental science experiments happen a lot. There was the time I left an empty milk carton outside and they turned it into a tap by inserting a straw. The girls decided they needed to find a way to turn it on and off. Further experimentation helped them work out how to get the tap to drain all of the water. My role as teacher was not to give them the answers but to ask questions like ‘How could you make it better?’ What could you use to…? or what would happen if…?
Having open-ended materials readily available makes it easy for them to instigate projects . This week, I put pieces of foam in the water table soaked in bubble mixture and showed them how to squeeze the foam to make bubbles. I knew my eldest would love this. She had another idea, taking a piece of plastic tubing she blew into it creating lots of foam. The children’s ideas are always the best! She asked me for test tubes and filled them with bubble mixture and opened her own beauty parlour with potions that made your hair soft or skin younger.
In the TED talk, Science is Play , Beau Lotto views Science as a way of being. He explains,
“We normally walk through life responding. If we ever want to do something different, we have to step into uncertainty…. Science lets us step into uncertainty through the process of play.”
Our youngest children are full of uncertainty so they are naturally questioning things all of the time. Isn’t that the foundation of science? Our skill as teachers is not to feed them the answers but to give them the tools to make their own discoveries. Do we need to plan specific science lessons? Isn’t science and discovery the very essence of childhood?Children don’t call it science, they call it play and in play they work things out for themselves.
I love this quote from the American Scientist article entitled ‘Science as Play
‘When I grew up, every kid put in some serious sandbox time, and it often involved building (what seemed like) complex sand structures around which fantasies were composed and competitions took place with neighborhood kids. The organic chemistry labs (at Yale during the junior year) were fun in the same way. We constructed molecules and competed with each other in the class on speed and yield. We mixed things up, and chemical transformations took place. We separated, we isolated, we analyzed. The odors were pleasant, and the physical process of working with our hands, as with sand, was satisfying. The biweekly organic labs became the high points of my week. By the end of the year, I knew that I wanted to be an organic chemist, as I realized one could play in the sandbox for a living. (Joseph B Lambert)
Playing in the sandbox for a living? ‘Isn’t that what I do?