In most of my previous Preschool Science programs, we’ve primarily explored a particular area of science (e.g., chemistry) or the science behind some everyday concept (e.g., weather, color, water, the body). As I got to thinking about additional Preschool Science topics, however, I began to consider: what if we spend an entire program focused on one of the key science skills? Kids already use so many of these skills in their everyday lives, but if we talk about them and exercise them in meaningful ways, we can really reinforce the idea of being scientists every day. Thus, this Observation Science program came to be.
First, we read some stories. I started things off with Pond Walk by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace, a story in which Buddy and his mother go to the pond to observe everything there and, hopefully, see a turtle. This is a slightly longer title, so I paper-clipped some pages together to abbreviate Buddy’s pond exploration for a preschool audience. There was still plenty going on at the pond, and plenty of opportunities to talk about how Buddy was using his eyes, writing down what he saw, drawing pictures, and asking questions. I also shared Denise Fleming’s In the Tall, Tall Grass. Before reading the words on each page, I asked the children to use their observation skills to tell me what they saw on the page. This active reading provided excellent practice for what it means to observe.
Next, we talk about the science. After a bit more discussion about what it means to observe–to notice things, to pay attention to how things fit together, to watch what happens to things as they change–we tried out our observation skills with a basic question: What do you observe in the storytime room? At first, the children answered pretty slowly and pointed out only the most obvious things in the room–the table, me, my chair. Once they got rolling, however, they began noticing all sorts of things in our space. I wrote all of these down on our observation list on a dry erase board so we could connect the idea that the words they said out loud have print equivalents.
We always have plenty of time to explore the science with hands-on activity stations. With the idea of reinforcing observation skills in mind, I created three different stations:
Using tools to observe things better – I put together a selection of items that would be found at a beach: rocks, driftwood, sand in water, some acorns. I collected all of these items while I was on vacation and visited the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, so I made sure to include a map with the observation items to show provenance. The kids had tweezers to pick up the objects, magnifying glasses to see them better, and a selection of questions to guide their grownups as they observed these items together. How does the rock feel? How does it look under a magnifying glass? What happens to the jar of sand and water when you gently tap it? What happens when you shake it? There were all sorts of mini experiments happening at this station as the children observed beach items.
- Observation and drawing – I gathered images of front paw tracks of four different animals–moose, raccoon, fox, and bear–and made signs for each to show them life size. I set out blank paper and crayons and invited the children to observe the animal prints, then draw what they look like on the paper. Another prompt for caregivers to share with their children was to trace the child’s hand on paper, then see what animal print it most resembled. I was pleasantly surprised just how much thought most of the children put into drawing the animal prints; they took their time to try and get as many details correct as possible, and then many practiced their letters by writing the name of the animal to which the print belonged.
Observation, measuring, and comparison – This station included a few components for children to use as they wanted. There was a wall-mounted height measuring chart with which children could compare their own heights to that of different animals. There were fabric tape measures and ideas for things to measure–feet, hands, around the head. There were also a selection of great nonfiction books that show animals in their true sizes: several of the Life-Size books, Steve Jenkins’s Actual Size, and a few others that were on my shelves the day of the program. Children could explore these awe-inducing books on their own, or use the tape measures to measure different parts of the different animals.
Everyone gets to take something home to reinforce our STEM topic. I invited children to take home any of the books from our measuring station, and I also set out a huge variety of other titles on topics like backyard exploration, nature walks, and other observation activities. I also made available a take-home activity sheet with instructions for two at-home activities to reinforce observation: using an egg carton to store and sort a new rock collection, and using paper to create an observation diary to be used in the backyard or at the playground. I set out extra copies of these take-home activity sheets in the library so other families can enjoy them even if they couldn’t attend our program.
Have you explored any key science skills in programs with your preschoolers? I’d love to hear about it.
Don’t forget to check out my other preschool science programs here on the ALSC Blog. Five programs are linked from the first paragraph in this post, and you can also check out my gravity and strength programs.