O is for Observe
All month long an incredible resource on STEM is being compiled for teachers and parents. Bloggers from around the world are breaking down the parts of STEM and offering accessible ways for young children to engage in important activities and experiments to develop an early understanding of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. I am honored to be part of this group.
My twins are three right now. I believe it is important to break down the skills need for experimenting and consciously teach them these tools, much like we teach children pencil grib and letter recognition for writing and reading.
Children are natural scientists. They are curious and eager to test their ideas. Envision an infant experimenting with cause and effect. However, in order to formulize the process young children need to develop certain skills. Amongst other things, children need to learn how to form questions, make a guess, and observe. Today I'm going to talk more about observing.
OBSERVE /əbˈzərv/ : (verb) to notice or perceive something and register it as being significant.
Young children seem to notice everything. This is a wonderful talent and offers them great insight into the world. On the other hand, it can also be distracting. While working on answering a question they can easily notice something else and wander off in another direction. There are times that this is completely fine and I encourage you to wander with them. However, in the pursuit of answers having the ability to focus observation is important.
As part of our homeschool preschool curriculum, we have been taking monthly nature walks. As we have yet to discover an awesome hiking trail in our new city, these walks primarily take place around the pond in our neighborhood. Our pond is happily populated with a number of different species of bird and the majority of our conversations about these walks have centered on these birds. The favorite being the elusive egret, but the ducks are a close second. At home our kids like to pretend they are ducks and have re-read Make Way for Ducklings more times than I can count. On our walks however we often get sidetracked by running races across the bridge, imagining with sticks and various other pursuits. This is not a bad thing. I'm all for running and imaginative play, but in pursuit of answering questions and learning more about these intriguing birds I decided to try to help focus our observations during our January walk.
First, we made a plan.
Before we left on our January walk, we read the book Birds by Kevin Henkes (who happened to be our Author Study author at the time). It is a simple book about birds, great for introducing the topic.
Afterwards we talked about what we might see on our walk later that morning. Birds naturally came up. I encourage you to take notes during this conversation. It will help you remember what they were thinking about, demonstrate the usefulness of writing as part of the process, and show how important you consider their words. I asked what we might bring to look more closely at the birds. This brought up two ideas.
Next, we gathered tools.
We were luckily gifted two of these awesome cameras. I love them for the button placement. In order to take a picture, you hold the camera vertically and press the button on the back in the middle. This encourages a lower hand placement and avoids the lovely closeups of their hands and fingers. Our kids love taking pictures with these and it definitely helps them look more closely at an object or in this case an animal.
If you have child-sized binoculars that is awesome. Any time you can put real tools into their hands to use the better. These are certainly on my wishlist, but for now we use our homemade ones. These are super simple to make with toilet paper tubes, string, a hole punch, and some tape. We made ours in the Fall and they hang near our doorway for easy access. They do not magnify anything, but they do seem to help them focus their attention on something.
3. Journals + Writing Implements
We have gone through a few nature journals in the past year. This certainly helps them focus because it encourages them to sit down and really look at the subject for a while. We used them recently when we went to look more closely at a caboose and I loved the resulting drawings. Normally I would have suggested them, but since it is January, even in Mississippi, it is still a little cool. It is hard to draw with mittens on, so I decided not to mention them for this outing.
I always make sure to bring my camera with me and something to write notes on when we go for walks as well. I have a terrible memory and this helps me reflect back on their questions and ideas later.
Then we observed.
We walked over to the pond and immediately they ran to look at the ducks. They started by watching them through their binoculars. The ducks were swimming towards us. When they got closer I suggested they try to take a picture. This prompts lots of clicking. Questions came naturally with the watching and photography. Here are some of the things they wondered:
How do ducks stay up on the water?
Where do their feet go when they swim?
Where are the babies?
Which one is the Mama duck?
Why are they swimming over there?
Are the ducks cold?
Occassionally I answer such queries, but often I have taken to simply turning the question back on them. I particularly liked the question about where their feet go. I asked for their ideas and through our conversation and their observations they were able to figure out that their feet were kicking under the water. They also looked closely at the family of ducks to attempt to determine the family roles which tends to be an important topic for my daughter. I jotted all of the questions do so we could revisit the ones we weren't able to answer.
Later we reflected and planned some more.
Back at the house that afternoon, I brought the topic of the ducks up at snack time. This is often a lovely chance for us to chat. I had printed a couple of their pictures and brought the questions they had asked on our walk.
We talked more about their ideas or hypothesis, but also talked about how we might confirm them. Where could we look? How could we find out?
*Books. Ask the librarian.
*Watch a video.
*See if there are ducks at the Science Museum (or the zoo - I added)
*Go look at the ducks again.
Can you guess what we'll do next?
Tools to Aid Observation:
Journals and Pens or Markers
*Make sure to stop over at the complete A-Z Stem Series and bookmark it for the future.
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