One of my main reasons for deciding to offer STEM programs for preschoolers has to do with concept knowledge and vocabulary. Young children experience so many things every single day; yet although they are observers and participants of these varied experiences, they do not inherently have the vocabulary or background knowledge to truly understand them. That’s why we, as early literacy experts, aim to read broadly with preschoolers, mixing new words and talk of how things work into our programming. I wanted to ensure that basic STEM concepts weren’t left out of this knowledge foundation, and so I developed my preschool science program. Today I want to share my recent Gravity Science program–after all, gravity affects so many aspects of children’s lives, and why not provide some words and activities to help figure it out? Here’s what we did:
First, we shared a story. We read Arthur Howard’s Cosmo Zooms, which follows the dog Cosmo as he snoozes on what turns out to be a skateboard and zooms away, much to the delight and amazement of his pals. As I read this story aloud, I asked the children questions about the pictures they were seeing. Can a mailbox move past you? Why or why not? These questions interspersed with the reading helped the children start thinking like scientists trying to figure out what they are observing.
Next, we retold our story. The children and I talked about what we had seen in the book, and when they figured out a skateboard had allowed Cosmo to zoom, we talked about what the street would have looked like for him to zoom down it: straight, uphill, or downhill. Having solved the question of how Cosmo zooms, we went back to the pages of the book to look for all the clues that point to our conclusion. We also talked about how this is how scientists solve problems.
We did hands-on activities to reinforce how gravity works. I set up three different stations in my programming room and encouraged children and caregivers to do all the activities at their own pace. Our three activities were:
- “What rolls down a ramp?” station – I used a piece of thick poster board-style particle board and some blocks to create a ramp, and I put a variety of objects by the top of the ramp. The goal was to place an object at the top of the ramp, then let go and see what happens. After kids tried a few items, caregivers were encouraged to have their children hypothesize what a certain new object would do based on previous object tests. Bonus: It’s fun to roll balls down a ramp. I got the idea for this station from Prekinders.
- “Ramps at different heights” station – I used particle board and blocks again to create ramps at three different heights. The table on which I fixed the ramps was covered in butcher paper. I had a set of toy cars for children to release from the top of each ramp, and they were to draw a crayon mark on the butcher paper to show how far the car had traveled from each ramp. Caregivers were encouraged to ask questions about why the cars traveled different distances from ramps of different heights.
- “Gravity painting” station – This STEAM-y activity requires white cardstock (or construction paper), watered-down washable paint, and paint brushes. Instructions on the activity guidelines told caregivers to help children hold their papers vertically, or perpendicular to the table. After dipping the paint brush in the watery paint, children were to dab the brush at the top of the paper and watch how gravity pulls the paint drip downwards, creating stripes. Some of the kids got really into this activity, and I asked them to guess what would happen if they turned their papers while the paint drips were still moving. They were delighted when they tested their guesses and saw new shapes taking form.
Everyone got to take something home to reinforce our STEM topic. I had a variety of books, most of them non-fiction and many of them with ideas for at-home experiments, displayed in the program room and available for check-out. I also put together a take-home activity sheet with two gravity experiments: one to test how high a ball bounces when dropped from different heights, and another to see if different solid objects fall at the same rate. All my program-going families took the activity sheet home with them, and I put extras at the check-out desk for families who couldn’t attend the program.
Have you ever engaged in a discussion or activity about gravity with preschoolers? What did you do, and how did it go?