Kids are natural scientists. They're full of questions about the world and how it works, and they're ready to find answers. Any scientist, of course, should have her own laboratory! This activity will help show you how to build a laboratory for your kid. Once completed, this space will give your child a nice place to work and will give you an easy place to store her experiments and activities. It's also a great way to encourage shared interest in kids of different ages.
Although scientific principles are the main focus of the lab, you child will learn all kinds of other skills by working with the science materials. Reading, writing, math, measuring, social development, social studies, language development and physical development are just a few areas that budding lab work will enhance.
What You Do:
- Ask your child to help find a good spot for her lab. Since many science activities involve the use of sunlight and the observation of weather conditions, a window is important. She may also want her laboratory somewhere near a sink as science can be a bit messy.
- If you have a window, place the table and chairs in front of it. This gives your scientist a well-lit workspace for the activities. Use the window half of the table to grow plants.
- Clearly define the boundaries of your child's laboratory. For example, make one boundary the wall, the second a bookshelf placed perpendicular to the wall, the third smaller bookshelf placed parallel to the wall, and the fourth a piece of colored tape (on hard floor) or hook-side velcro (on carpet). If your lab is in a corner, you can use another wall as the fourth boundary. Have your child make sure there's room to get in and out of the lab!
- Stock one of the bookshelves with activities and the materials required to complete them. Also include pencils and paper in case your child needs to write, draw, or chart something. If you have more than one child, provide about two and a half activities times the number of children using the Center. For example, if two children can use the lab at one time, have five choices available on the shelves. This seems to be the magic number in keeping children productively and actively involved in what they are doing.
- Use trays, baskets, buckets or tote trays to contain all the materials and instructions for each activity. This will make it easy and intuitive for your child to put the materials back where they belong so she can find them again next time.
- Keep a trash can, dry clean up cloths, a small dust pan, a broom and a moist sponge on the second bookshelf so your scientist can tidy up when she's done.
With a prime workspace like this, your child will become an independent and self-directed learner. Below, you'll find some of the scientific principles that any young scientist can learn in her lab.
No child is too young to understand scientific principles, as long as they're presented in an age-appropriate way. Here are just a few of the important concepts that your child can learn from working in her lab:
- Cause and Effect. When a hammer strikes a rock and the rock breaks open, your child observes causality, or cause and effect. When she pours water on a plant, allows the plant to have sunlight and watches the plant grow, she is learning that she can influence events and that she and other living things are also influenced by events. She will learn that things do not happen immediately; Sometimes there is a time delay between an event like watering a plant, and the result—a growing plant. This will teach her to be patient and to notice the long-term results of her efforts.
- Patterns. When your child looks at the life-rings in the cross section of a tree trunk, she sees the patterns that exist in nature. She may begin to see other patterns, like in butterflies and beehives. Patterns are basic to the understanding of modern science.
- Cycles. When your child observes a butterfly or a chick evolve from a cocoon or an egg, she is learning about the life cycle. When she observes ice melting, water brought to a boil and steam rising from the boiling pot, she is observing the water cycle. Encourage her to look for other cycles inside and outside her new laboratory.
- Properties. Everyt time your child pours, scoops and touches things, or when she notices texture, color, size and shape, she is learning about the qualities and the properties of things and about scientific observation.
Any time your child uses her senses, shows you what she observes, or notices the similarities and differences in the things around her, she is engaging in science! Make sure to tell her that her discoveries are important. Her curiosity will teach her some wonderful things.
Adapted with permission from "Squish, Sort, Paint & Build: Over 200 Easy Learning Center Activities." Copyright 1996 by Sharon MacDonald. Used by Permission of Gryphon House, Inc., Maryland. All Rights Reserved.