Science in the NUA Sparrow kindergartens is learned through everyday life. Our students are deeply involved in the discovery of their surrounding world. There aren’t obvious hypothesis being presented, or deliberate experiments being set up. There aren’t books explicitly teaching children to analyze and break apart their environment. However, our children are given multiple opportunities for exploring their natural world. Not only are they read books, told stories, and taught songs that highlight nature in order to encourage their curiosity, they are also instinctually creating their own experiments throughout the day.
In our kindergartens, we have been following the season of Autumn. Through songs and imaginative movement we have jumped in falling leaves, we have sown seeds with farmers, and gathered acorns with the squirrels. Along with The Little Red Hen, we have planted corn, harvested corn, ground it into corn flour, and made corn bread. In Free Play, we have shucked corn and literally ground the corn into flour. As a baking activity we have made corn bread, speculating how it will turn out and using all of our senses to feel, taste, smell, and see the bread while listening to classmates draw conclusions about the cornbread. This is one example of how we teachers have laid a foundation of what Autumn is all about; where food comes from, the lifecycle of plants, and how it benefits both humans and wild animals. This is the science of Autumn, offered naturally.
Throughout the day, the kindergarteners are often heard making predictions about something they are about to try, hypothesizing what will happen if they attempt something new, and drawing conclusions about what they’ve done. Children are often seen on the play yard planting old flowers and cut down trees, asking their teachers, “Will they grow if I plant it?” and announcing, “If I plant this tree it will grow again.” When, after a few weeks of planting and watering these trees, they don’t produce any roots and the dried up leaves fall off, they begin to realize the trees can’t be replanted once they have been cut down. They don’t need us to tell them to come up with a hypothesis and draw a conclusion. They do it anyway and just need time to explore for themselves. This allows them to engage their critical thinking skills in a way that they will remember.
As much fun as it is for us adults to analyze and scrutinize every aspect of life, how often do we tell each other to “slow down and smell the roses?” This is the gift we give our children by allowing them the time to do just that. Sure, we could read them a book that diagrams the rose, pointing out that the rose has a stem and a leaf, petals and stamen. We could tell them that the scent is to attract bees to help the rose reproduce, and the thorns are to keep the creatures away that might pick the rose, disrupting the reproductive process. OR, we could let our children smell the rose for themselves, observe the bees visiting the rose, and maybe even get poked by the thorn. We can allow them to use their own critical thinking skills through encouraging their exploration rather than giving them quick and easy answers. In this way, they are more intimately connected to the rose so that later in their school career, reading a book that deconstructs the rose sparks their memories, and thus a truer understanding is made. With this in mind, it is more important to provide books and stories that enhance the awe children feel for their natural world rather than books that break apart their natural world, leaving bare the cold, hard facts.
Science is a part of the kindergarten child’s everyday life all during the school day without there being an explicit “science class.” It comes in the form of free play, baking, painting, gardening, and stories. This is the time to lay a foundation of reverence for nature. This is the time to give them space and freedom to simply explore the world in which they live.
Submitted by Helga Conklin, Kindergarten Teacher