Science is all around us. We just have to look closely with "science eyes," smell with "science noses," hear with "science ears," and touch with "science fingers." Children experience the magic of how things are and how things work through their five senses. Everything you do with children can become an exciting science experience when you instill a sense of "wonder" into your summer activities. Consider the collection of activities in this issue as your guide for a "wonder-filled" summer together.
Setting the Stage
The key to setting the stage for science is to adopt a viewpoint of "wonder" with everything you do with children. Happily, you don't have to be a scientist or even know all the answers-but you can ask the questions! When you walk outside and notice the warmth of the sun on your skin, wonder about it out loud: "Why do I feel hot? Where is the heat coming from? What can I do to cool off? How many different ways can I cool off?" With these few questions, you have invited children to wonder about something that is happening to them in "real time," and have given them an opportunity to experiment with hot and cold, light and shadow. Let children answer the questions with their own ideas and devise ways to experiment with what is available. It is more important for children to hypothesize and experiment with these concepts than for you to give them the "right answers." If you give them too much information, you might miss some of their great answers. One 4-year-old, when asked why her skin felt hot on a summer day, replied, "Because a giant is roasting marshmallows up in the sky." Now that is a "wonder-filled" answer!
Arranging the Space
Whether you are doing science inside or out, it is important to think about how you will use your space and materials. Sometimes, sciencerelated activities need "stuff." It's helpful to read through the activities and plan ahead. Collect materials you might need and place them in plastic containers or paper boxes or bags. This way you are not running around looking for "science things" just before the children arrive. Invite parents to help. They can send in items that you need and even help you organize it.
Be sure you have enough space to work. You might want to "clear the decks" to make room for science this summer. Notice which games and activities children have not been using and put them away. This will only make them more special when you take them back out again. In addition, you will have created a more open workspace for fun and experimentation.
It is always helpful to keep in mind a sequence of steps in setting up any activity. With science activities, it is particularly helpful to consider ways to invite children to wonder and think. Consider these steps:
Introduce the activity or concept. Make it fun and interesting by presenting a problem to solve or a surprise to figure out. (see the suggestions for each section in "Getting Started.")
Present and discuss the materials. Invite children to tell you what they think they are going to do with the materials instead of you telling them. They will have to use problem-solving and creative- and critical-thinking skills to do this.
Organize small groups to explore the activities. Science is always more successful and fun in small groups. Large groups create too much waiting and watching time for children. Science needs to be hands-on and relevant.
Observe children participating in the activities. Notice how children are beginning to use a science viewpoint or "science eyes" as they explore an activity. Listen for the words they use and the ways they interact with materials. Be sure to remind them that they are being scientists.
Ask the questions and introduce the conversation starters that are offered in the introductory sections. This will encourage children to think like scientists.
Help children review what they have experienced. We often forget to ask children to review, but it is an essential part of what a scientist does. Every experiment needs to be reviewed and evaluated. Ask,"What happened? What did we find out?" When you ask children to review, you are building not only their science process skills, but also their essential language and literacy skills of comprehension, recall, and self-expression.
Things to Remember
When enjoying the activities during the summer months, keep the following in mind:
• Leave activities out for much longer than you would during the rest of the year. Invite children to help you plan and monitor the activities.
• Be extra flexible with activities and schedules.
• Acknowledge children's efforts to solve problems and create understanding. Help them recognize the great thinking they are doing when they experiment and play.
• Notice the teachable moment when new material needs to be added or changed to expand the learning.
Teacher-vs. Child-Initiated Activities
As you review the activities, you'll notice an interesting blend of teacher-initiated and child-initiated activities. Both types have benefits. Teacher-initiated activities introduce an idea, material, or process, but also take advantage of the opportunity to stand back and allow children to work independently. Child-initiated activities inspire children to take their own interests and ways of approaching something and apply them to the material or activity at hand. An optimum program creates a balance by providing both types of activities, which you'll find in abundance in this issue.
Be sure to include both teacher-initiated and child-initiated activities in your program.
With all of this investigating both inside and outdoors, it's important to be conscious of safety issues. To protect children in your outdoor play space, do the following every day:
• When working with delicate science materials, make sure there is always an adult helping with the activity.
• Put science materials away when not in use.
• Check the playground for debris, such as broken glass, can lids, trash, sharp rocks, and animal droppings. Remove any of these things from the area.
• Sweep away standing water on the ground and in equipment. Water should not collect under or near equipment, especially under slides and swings. Puddles can form and cause falls, or get shoes and clothing wet. They can also breed mosquitoes.
• Replace any surfacing material that has been scattered, such as wood chips or pea gravel. Loose-fill material should be 12 inches deep, both under and around equipment.
Each month, involve children in an inspection of the playground for any potential hazards. Take a safety walk together. Children will become more aware of their play space, and will be extra careful when they are involved in the process of inspection. Plus, they can let you know when they notice something that might be a problem. Everyone can cooperatively inspect for:
- damaged surfacing material
- broken, bent, or warped equipment surfaces
- drainage problems
- open tubes or pipes that need to be capped
- sharp parts or edges
- worn swing chains and s-hooks
- loose nuts and bolts
- squeaky parts that are in need of lubrication
- rotting wood or splinters
- rust or peeling paint
- tripping hazards, such as tree roots or large rocks
Discuss "plant safety" by reminding children to keep plants out of their mouths, and to avoid touching shiny "leaves of three" (poison ivy).
Before you head for the playground or your outdoor play space, pack a few first-aid supplies. The following items will help you treat most minor injuries:
- adhesive strip bandages
- cold packs
- sealed packages of cleansing wipes
- clean clothes or wash clothes
- bee sting kit
Use Sunscreen Liberally
Consult with families about their suncare routine. Ask what SPF they use with their children, and if they have any allergies. Go to a discount store and buy baseball caps or visors. Each child can decorate her own and use it throughout the summer for extra sun protection.
Drink Plenty of Water
On a hot day, an actively playing child over the age of 3 should stop every 15-20 minutes and drink around six to eight ounces of water. A few sips at the fountain are not enough. Keep chilled water bottles (marked with names) available throughout the day. If possible, set pitchers of ice water and disposable cups in different areas outside and inside. Establish a "water monitor" job for children. They can be in charge of keeping the pitcher filled.