Children and Science (S.T.E.A.M)


Science is everywhere. Science is the world around us, the space beyond the clouds, the components that make up us and all living things. There are so many facets of scientific inquiry, all with different purposes, including biology, chemistry, physics, medicine or astronomy to name a few. The main goal of all these areas of study is to question, experiment and understand. It's very much the same way that children experience and learn through their play. Here in the STEAM room, this approach is heavily reinforced, allowing all children that come in to experiment with the materials, make guesses (hypotheses) of outcome of things or how to improve something, and to reflect on what they have experienced to gain a better knowledge of what they have accomplished. Although children may not be involved directly in the various scientific fields mentioned above all the time, they are still doing the most important thing that all scientific inquiry revolves around: asking questions and trial and error (experimenting). The approach of scientists and children looks very similar when they are doing their experiments. But how does children's play connect to science? Children play with and explore materials. They question, make hypotheses, and make observations about the materials themselves - how do things feel/look/smell/sound? What are different approaches to their work and experiments? And, of course, they engage with the most basic questions to learning and understanding: "Why?" and "How?" Why is this happening? Why did this fall? Why are they rolling? Why is this wet? How can I get this to work? How can I fix this?  The questions are endless, and the more "why's" and "how's" means the children will get a better grasp on understanding what they are observing and interacting with and how these materials work and function in the application in which they are engaged.

Some of our friends from a class had come in and noticed a bone I had sitting on a shelf. Immediately they had so many questions. What is this? What part of the animal is this? What animal did this come from? Is the animal still alive? Where is the rest of the animal? I tried to answer as best as I could, but, I was also unaware of what and where the bone was from. It is something special when you can share the same curiosity with children and really get on their level to participate in their discussion without having the answers they are looking for, because then there are no wrong answers.  While they were questioning away they continued to observe the bone. They felt the bone and noticed it was bumpy and rough on some parts and smooth on other parts. The very front of and tip of the bone had a really smooth part and two holes. A child looked and thought it looked like a nose of an animal and when we  flipped it over and looked at the other side we saw more holes. One child said "Those holes are to help it breath" From that point, they had decided that is was the head bone of some animal but they couldn't decide what animal it was.  They made observational drawings of the bone, making it apparent to add the holes they seen to their picture, with one child saying that "it was a part of the bone that broke off."  It was later discovered that the bone was the Sacrum of a cow. I made sure to relay this information to that group of children as I figured they would be excited to know what is was from the curious questions and hypotheses the children came up with.

There is a group of children that has been working on creating a Sukkah in a way they envision it. They have come across a lot of hurdles along the way, but rather than giving up or getting frustrated, they have critically thought and experimented with different solutions. One problem that arose was when they were building the post of their Sukkah. They cut bamboo and some pieces were left with a slight tilt when standing. They were trying to discover a way to attach those posts to the floor piece. They tried glue and realized that glue will not hold the post right away. so one child suggested that while the posts are in the glue they should use some tape to hold up the posts. It was a quickly thought up idea that ended up being a very helpful solution. But what did they learn? First, they came to have a better understanding that glue can be good to use to attach things, but it takes time to dry.

They learned that for this reason, glue wasn't the right solution to their problem, so they had to come up with another idea. The next idea that came to them was to use tape. They already had the understanding that tape is sticky, and with that, they figured they could just tape the posts to the floor. Through this process of theorizing, experimenting and discovering, they gained a better understanding of which resources to use for different situations. With this example we can see how the main ideas of science were used even though what they were doing didn't look like the formal scientific inquiries many adults imagine. What is most important is that after the children resolve their problem their accomplishment is reinforced with a "Wow, you really did a great job working together to solve this problem." or "You guys worked together as a team and really thought of different ways to figure out how to get these post to stand up." This reinforcement is key because it helps the children reflect on what they accomplished and also to take pride in their work.

That was just two examples of the many that has happened in the STEAM room. Children questioned and solving their own problems. It's quite amazing to see and know that if you give the children the chance and look at them as being competent in their tasks, they will pull together and solve most of their issues on their own. The children are naturally playing the role of scientists and explorers, figuring out the world around them. Everything is so fresh and new that they don't realize they are experimenting their way through their early years of life. And this is the one goal that scientist and all children have in common: to take in information and build upon that to understand things based on their experiences.