So many of you already offer story times on subjects like rain, snow, and clouds; have you ever thought about making those story time plans more intentionally STEM-oriented? Add some non-fiction, a demonstration, and/or an experiment or two, and suddenly you’ve got a room full of preschoolers building skills to become not only good readers but inquisitive citizen scientists, too.
Our most recent preschool STEM program, on the topic of “weather,” followed a similar set-up as our last endeavor, with a balance between early literacy and science literacy. I hope you’ll consider offering a similar STEM program for preschoolers at your library.
First, we read our story. For this weather-themed program, I selected an older Reading Rainbow pick, Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain by Verna Aardema. “Wait!” you might say; “Why a fictional tale instead of a non-fiction title?” Good question, readers. Style-wise, I chose Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain because it is a cumulative tale, which is appropriate for preschool-age readers. Content-wise, I chose it over non-fiction options because it allows us to talk about science versus superstition and pretend. It may seem like a cool idea that shooting an arrow into a raincloud will cause it to burst and send down the rain, but scientists who observe weather know that rain works differently. Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain is a fun story, but it also introduces us to the idea of scientific questioning.
Next, we retell the story together and talk about the science. This is the part of the program where, as we retell the story step by step, we ask questions about whether the events are real. Do cows need grass to eat? Yes. Do birds fly and sometimes drop their feathers? Yes. Do people sometimes shoot arrows into the air? Yes. Do those arrows puncture clouds and cause it to rain? No. This retelling offers us the perfect segue into our hands-on activities to help us explore how science explains weather.
We always have plenty of hands-on science time. Two of our activities included interactive models that show how science can explain things about the world and weather, and a third allowed each child to create an instrument to observe the science of the weather at home:
- The first activity station was a terrific rain-falling-from-clouds model. Using a tub of water with shaving cream clouds on the top, children drip drops of food coloring on top of those “clouds.” Just like with real rain clouds, no “rain” falls from the shaving cream at first; the liquid isn’t heavy enough. When there is enough “rain” concentrated in one area–when the cloud can no longer support the density of the liquid–the “rain” falls from the cloud. This interactive model creates quite a visual impression; I even had a mom ask if she could put her pictures and a description of the experiment on Pinterest.
- The second activity station allowed us to see how the sun and the rotation of the planet cause day and night. With tennis ball Earths and flashlight suns, children and their caregivers explored how day and night work by holding the flashlight and rotating the tennis ball. I taped a couple of talking points to the station table, and I overheard lots of conversations and questions about times of the day and where the sun goes at night.
- The third activity station had a wind detector craft. Children used pants-hanger rods, string, and different weights of paper to create their own wind detectors. They had a lot of fun testing their detectors by blowing on them–lightly blowing moved only the tissue paper, but blowing really hard moved tissue paper, computer paper, cardstock, and cardboard.
How would you help introduce the science of weather to preschoolers?