Early Childhood Today: Kristal, how do you make science an integral part of the classroom experience?

Kristal Rice: I have worked to create a classroom that is "science friendly." While I have a table set up specifically for science, in other areas in my room there are thoughtfully placed materials set out to encourage children to experiment. For example, at the sand table, there are different-sized clear plastic tubes, funnels, measuring cups, and spoons. There is also a container of water, with plastic molds nearby. At the water table, I've again provided clear plastic tubes, measuring cups and spoons, as well as large pieces of Ivory soap, sponges, and turkey basters. I also encourage the children to bring in things they may have discovered on a family trip or on the way to school or the park, etc. We provide time for closer observation of these things from home.

ECT: In addition to sand and water play, how do you connect science learning to music, art, and other curriculum areas?

Rice: I keep materials that promote exploration readily available in each of our learning centers. For example, we have jars of paint and water for color mixing in the art area, along with brushes of various sizes and shapes so that children can experiment with different kinds of strokes. We keep rubber bands and straws of assorted sizes and shapes in the math center. Our writing area includes Cray-Pas, chalk, and tracing paper for all kinds of experimentation. During music time, we use dried gourds and sand-filled containers to make instruments and experiment with sound. And, of course, science books are displayed in our reading area, to spark investigations.

ECT: Would you say your science program is more teacher directed or child directed?

Rice: It's both! Children are naturally curious beings. They are constantly assessing and reassessing the world around them, asking questions, and finding ways to prove their theories. They look to create new experiences and test their ideas. They're excited about learning new information and making connections. With this in mind, I work to create a science curriculum that leaves room for spontaneous investigation and for learning that is sparked by their curiosity.

ECT: What part do observation and documentation play in your science curriculum?

Rice: Observing and documenting are essential components of my science curriculum. As children continually revise their understanding of the world around them and how things work, the process of observation gives them the opportunity to raise questions and to look differently or more deeply at things. We give children the time and encouragement to observe so that they have the chance to see things change within a few moments or over time.

We continually have children draw and write or dictate to us what they observe. This process gives children an opportunity to record, keep track of, and share what they have found out.

ECT: Can you recall any specific science projects or activities that have been particularly successful with the children in your program?

Rice: There are so many. Watching things grow is always surprising and exhilarating for children. Children have enjoyed sprouting beans in a wet paper towel, sprouting root vegetables in soil, and sprouting avocado pits in water. They also love it when we put out different foods so that they can watch mold grow.

Mixing different materials together and watching what happens is always exciting in our program. We give children opportunities to mix sand, oil, and food coloring with water, and to mix paint, sometimes limiting the colors to only black and white. Experimenting with objects that sink or float in water or oil is always a hit, as is raising butterflies from caterpillars.

This year, our class has the responsibility of taking care of the community garden across the street from our school. We weeded, planted flower bulbs, and prepared the vegetable beds in the fall. Now that it's spring, we're getting ready to weed again and plant vegetable seeds - now that's exciting!