Thursday, September 10, 2015

Guest Post: Science with a 2-year-old

It's BFBN Guest Post Day and today Kim from Team Cartwright is sharing about teaching science to a two-year-old. Kim has some really simply ideas on how to encourage a curiosity for science in a toddler. I do a dedicated table time with Drew twice a week and I can't wait to incorporate Kim's ideas into that teaching time with him!

(Kim's post is also fitting because today I'm sharing over at Emily's blog about toddler table time.)


Science with a 2 year old. I know, it almost sounds crazy. A lot of people flash back to high school biology or chemistry when they think of science. No way is a parent going to sit a 2 year old down to dissect frogs or try experiments with a Bunsen burner. Fortunately, it doesn't take much to get toddlers into science. By nature little kids like to explore and are always trying to figure out how the world around them works. Oh sure, it is annoying when they are constantly throwing food off their dinner tray. Sometimes they are just being difficult, but they are learning about the forces of gravity pulling items to the ground and cause and effect from watching the items splatter around the floor. As a parent we may be learning the art of counting to ten before reacting. Instead of tossing dinner, here is a list of a couple of other ways we can focus on science with young toddlers.

1) Magnets. Kids love magnets. Grab a cookie sheet and some refrigerator magnets and let them push them around at the table. They can be similar to stickers with the placing them, but you can remove them and do it again. Grab some household items to see if the magnets will attract them. Paper clips are a good one to try, though supervised to make sure they aren't swallowed. You can try anything that is metal and magnetic. Once your child gets used to the idea that magnets can pick up other objects, try adding some that aren't magnetic. Erasers or just pieces of fabric are great to show not everything sticks to the magnets. You don't have to go into a full explanation of how or why magnets work, the kids are learning about how the world works just by doing it. If you want to take it a step further, pick up some bar magnets from a hobby store. You can try to push the like ends together and feel them repel, then flip one over and see how they attract. Just supervise carefully with any small magnets. We all know swallowing them can be super dangerous.

2) A tub of water. A tub of small noodles or rice would work as well for a lot of this. Give your child containers of various sizes and let him fill and dump them out. Try pouring from one container to another. If you pour from a large container to a small one, does all the water fit? What happens when you pour the water out of the cup and back into the tub? Do the containers float? What happens if you push them under the water? Can you sink one of the containers? These are all things kids do normally when given a chance to play with water. What are they learning from it? They are learning about differences in sizes and volume. They are learning about buoyancy from pushing the cups down. They are learning about surface tension by trying to make cups float. They are learning about waves by watching drops of water fall. You don't need to lecture them on it, the lessons are sinking in just by playing.

3) Take a walk. The fall is a great time to encourage your child to learn about nature. What happens to the leaves? How have they changed from the summer? Do you see any animals running around? How do squirrels climb trees? Let them toss some rocks or sticks into a pond. Collect a few items to take home and look are more closely. What is the difference between a stick and a rock? These are all basic questions that as adults we know the answers to and don't wonder about. But kids are still learning, making this sort of thing new and fascinating to them. And again, even without giving a dissertation on how chlorophyll works and the difference between types of rocks and organic materials, your child is learning. They are seeing the way our world actually works. In time they will learn that this is a cycle, and it will build into an understanding of how and why this is happening. Talk about different animals you see and how they look different. Birds have wings to help them fly, squirrels have big tails to help them balance in trees. How are they different from humans? They are learning about anatomy and animals just by observing animals, something most kids love.

These are just a few ideas as to ways to build science into your days. I think the easiest way to help kids love science is to encourage them to ask why. It won't take much, we all know kids have an insatiable curiosity about the world around them. Ask them what they see. What do they think is happening? What do they think will happen? Ask them to answer their own questions. Why do they think the magnets stick to the cookie sheet? Why do they think leaves change colors? Another big tip is to not worry if you don't know an answer. Not knowing makes adults uncomfortable. We naturally tend to shy away from what we don't know. I honestly feel the whole point of science is that we don't know. It's the search for answers, and, well, there can be no answers if there are no questions. Let your child see you not know something. There is no shame in it. Help them learn that it is okay to not know, and that you can find out the answer together. Google is a quick resource to try. With 2 year olds try taking them to the library and looking for books on topics that interest them. Most of all, let them try things. Let them look around and observe what is going on in their world. Yes, it can make a 20 foot walk take half an hour, but think of all the knowledge they are absorbing on the way. You just might start your own love of science and discovering the world all around.

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