Tag Archives: Science

Creating Preschool Entomologists – Bringing the Bugs Inside

BUG IN A JAR - July 2003 by the bridge.

When it comes to exploring bugs, you just can’t really beat bug collecting as an activity!  Getting bugs into an enclosure -whether it’s the time-honored classic jar with air-holes in the lid, or something like this– allows children to look closely at the bugs to examine their characteristics.  Having a barrier not only keeps the bug in one place, but it often makes little ones feel a bit less skittish. 

We’re Going on a Bug Hunt

A bug hunt is a lot of fun, but it also helps the child to become more familiar with the bug’s environment and needs.  Children soon learn that they can find more bugs under a rock than on the sidewalk.  You can talk about why that is, and what needs are being met in the different environments.  Children also have to be aware of what the bugs need if they are going to keep them in the enclosure for much more than about an hour.  What kind of food do they need?  What kind of things can be added to make their environment similar to where they were found?  Answering these questions through careful observation requires the child to use scientific inquiry.

Feeling Sluggish

While you’re out catching bugs, may I suggest one amazing specimen to observe?  Garden snails are a menace, but I caught a few to observe with some children a while back, and it was amazing to watch them at work!  You can quickly learn why they are such pests when you watch them devour a leaf right before your eyes!  Watching as they climb up the side of the container gives a unique view of the wave-like undulations that propel these crazy creatures.  I detest these intruders in my garden, but in a container, they fill me with child-like wonder!  I realize they aren’t insects, but I would put them in the creepy-crawly category for preschool purposes.

Bug Sources

In addition to your own backyard, there are a lot of other sources that can provide you with unique bug-observation experiences.  Here are a few suggestions to consider.  (Just so you know, none of these are paid sponsors.  Just places I’ve seen or used.)

  • Watch the Metamorphosis!  I’ve had very good results with this Butterfly Garden from Insect Lore .  You receive caterpillars in the mail (complete with their own food) and within about three weeks, you have butterflies that you can release in your own backyard.  When we received our most recent batch, my son and I broke dry spaghetti noodles into the same sizes as the five caterpillars and taped them to a paper as a reference point for comparison later.  It’s absolutely amazing to see how quickly these guys grow!
  • Try Gel Ant Farms!  I haven’t used one of these myself, but our local library did, and my son would have stared at them all day if he could have!  You can check out a  wide variety on Amazon.
  • Go Organic!  Organic garden supply stores usually carry beneficial insects that can be released in your garden as natural pesticides.  I know in the garden center at one of our local grocery stores, about $5 could buy you a package filled with Ladybugs or a Praying Mantis egg case.  The egg case can be placed in a garden and allowed to hatch Praying Mantis nymphs while you observe these unique new tenants.  Ladybugs are fantastic bugs to have children examine as they gently hold them in their own hands(while sitting outside, so the bugs can fly away without becoming trapped in a room).
  • Find the Sugar Ants!  Now this is NOT one I want to bring inside, but I noticed yesterday how quickly sugar ants will swarm a cookie accidentally dropped at the park.  I also noticed how fascinated young children are with watching that sea of black at work!  As long as you promise to clean it up afterward, you might “bait” some sugar ants while playing outside.  (Parks are perfect for this because the ants are used to finding sugar there!)  Set out a cookie or orange slice and check on it periodically while you play.  Bring magnifiers to get a closer look, and maybe use the opportunity to talk about the importance of cleaning up so that the insects that are so fascinating outside don’t become a pest inside!

Expand

Encourage children to internalize the information they gathered through their observations by making sketches of their bugs.  Drawing an image requires them to recall the information they just acquired and use it in a meaningful way, which helps comprehension. 

You could also extend this bug viewing activity by having your children dictate fanciful stories or non fiction books about the bugs you encountered.  Put their words into print and have them illustrate the book – or illustrate with photos.  It will become one of their favorite books and they’ll build language and literacy skills along the way!

Have fun getting buggy with your young entomologists!

For more bug-themed ideas, check out this brainstorm! 

Top photo by the bridge.
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The Empty Pot Seed Experiment

I just wanted to share some photos from the experiment we did after reading The Empty Pot (details on the experiment here).   I used pea seeds since they’re nice and large…..and because I already had them on hand, seeing as how I’m way behind on actually getting them in the ground.   Here’s the difference between the two samples after about a week’s time.

The uncooked specimen.  Sprouting roots and green leaves.  Have the children gently tug at the tiny sprouts and feel how the roots hold on to the paper towel.  Then talk about the role of roots as they hold plants in the ground so they don’t blow away, in addition to their job of seeking out water to suck up into the plant.

The cooked guys.  They’re much better in person!  A bit squishy and slimy, and they even smell a little bit.  As I mentioned in that original post, the first time I tried this, I apparently didn’t cook the seeds long enough, because they still sprouted!  This year, I cooked them for a very long time in a glass measuring cup full of water in the microwave.  I made sure it was boiling and then added a few more minutes.

Talk it out.  As you examine the seeds each day, perhaps during your circle time or large group time, you can review the story, thereby increasing comprehension.  (Page through the book and have the children describe what happened…..and what happened next.)  Another day, as you check progress, you can review the scientific process that you followed for this seed experiment.  (We wanted to see if a cooked seed would really grow.  So we tried sprouting regular seeds and cooked seeds so we can compare how they grow.  Let’s look very closely now and see what we can observe.  What  do you think?  Are they the same or different?  What do you see that is different?)  You could also just very quickly point out the picture cues on each bag to reinforce symbolic writing.  Pull out some magnifying glasses and set them by the baggies so the children can examine them.  Every day that you examine these seeds, you are not only making a scientific discovery, but you can reinforce other concepts as well.

Reread the story again at the end of your experiment and ask the children which seeds Ping had in his pot.  This again connects the science concept and to the story, and shows their comprehension of both.  Ask the children if seeds can grow if they’ve been cooked.  Looking at their experiment they will almost certainly say no.  Question – Investigate – Observe – Communicate.  You’ve effectively followed the entire scientific process with preschool children!  Who says science is too hard?

For more Seeds & Plants activities, click here.

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3-2-1-0 Day – Time to Blast Off!

It occurred to me this morning, that not only is this Dr. Seuss’ 106th birthday (in honor of which I will be posting more activities soon), but it is also 3-2-1-0 Day!  I thought that to celebrate a day made for countdowns, you may want to try Film Canister Rockets or Steve Spangler’s Mentos Geysers.   I don’t need much encouragement to do “blast-off” projects – it may be my favorite type of science activity- but a day that comes around once every century or so, seems like an exceptionally good reason!

Top photo by tom1.

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Book Activity: Bartholomew and the Oobleck

Bartholomew and the Oobleck

Bartholomew and the Oobleck is an enthralling story to read with children!  It follows a king who wants something new to come from the sky, so he orders his magicians to make “oobleck”.  As with many alterations of Mother Nature (Michael Jackson comes to mind) this, of course, turns out to be a disaster!  It is only remedied when his page, Bartholomew, convinces him he needs to say the words, “I’m sorry.” 

In addition to being a great literacy experience (as almost any Dr. Seuss production is) this story is also great for integrating with a weather theme, a Dr. Seuss author study, or for talking about the social skill of apologizing.  This is a little on the longer side, so for younger audiences, be familiar enough to summarize the story if you need to speed it along.  Follow up this story with a batch of your own oobleck!

You don’t have to be a magician to make oobleck!  Either ahead of time or with your children, mix 1 ½ parts cornstarch to 1 part water (colored green, of course, to replicate the oobleck).  Give each of the children a small bit to work with on a tray.  Discuss the way the oobleck feels and the way it responds as they play with it. 

This type of oobleck is what is technically called a “Non-Newtonian fluid”, meaning that its viscosity changes in response to force, causing it to act much like a solid at times.  You’ll notice that when the oobleck is left still, it runs like a liquid.  When it is touched with force, however, it responds as a solid.  Encourage your children to try different ways of manipulating the oobleck to demonstrate this unique trait.  Here are some suggestions:  hold it in an open hand, roll it into a ball and then leave the ball on a tray, tap it with your fingers or open hand, try to cut or tear it.  A great sensory/science activity!

*Be sure to dispose of this in the garbage, and not in the sink.  If you need to clean the oobleck off of something, it is most easily done when it has dried.  If you clean off as much as you can when it is wet, the remainder will dry and leave a powdery residue which can easily be brushed off or vacuumed.

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Sensory / Science

Photo provided by D-Squared.

Science is often thought of in academic terms, with images of lab coats, safety goggles, and beakers coming to mind.  In the world of a preschooler, science is life itself!  The Scientific Method is simply the art of inquiry, an art these newcomers to this great planet often summarize in the word, “why”.  “Why?”, is a succinct question any parent or teacher of preschoolers hears multiple times a day, and can understandably tire of.  What we must remind ourselves of is the fact that this one-word question is also an expression of a desire to learn.  When we feel bombarded by the redundant machine-gun fire of why’s, we must remember that our children are saying, “We’ve only been around here a few years now, and everything is new and fascinating!  Please teach me!”

Children explore their world through the use of the Scientific Method, or Scientific Inquiry.  It includes:

1-Questioning (Hypothesizing, Predicting)

2-Investigating (Experience/Experiment, Explore, Create)

3a-Using senses and simple tools to collect data (Observing, Classifying)

3b- Using data (including past experience) to develop explanation or conclusion

4-Communicating findings (Language Development)

Because data collection is often done by using the senses, sensory development through sensory play, is imperative in honing the child’s number one scientific tool: the five senses.  This can be done through a variety of activities as we encourage the children to use, attend to, and discuss the five senses.  It can also be done through the use of a sensory table (also known as a sand and water table).  These tables are used to hold a variety of media for exploration (colored rice, ice and salt, water, sawdust, etc.).  As the children manipulate these different media they learn scientific concepts from the information acquired through the use of their senses, particularly by being able to manipulate the objects themselves.

At the preschool level, science categories can be broken down to include Physical Science (physical features and  properties, sound, light, water, states of matter, movement, etc.), Life Science (living vs. nonliving, needs of living things, life cycles, growth, body parts of living things), and Earth & Space Science (environmental components, natural features, weather and seasons, components of the sky).

While science is easily segregated for the purpose of discussion, it is integrated throughout the preschooler’s life and educational experiences.  Any time children wonder what the flour in your pantry feels like, what would happen if they stacked every block they owned on top of each other, or whether or not they can fit their heads through the balusters in the stairs, they are engaging in the scientific process of inquiry.

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