Choosing Materials and Activities for the Science Center
To effectively meet children’s needs and help them to acquire scientific knowledge, skills, and dispositions, we need to choose materials and activities for our science center that meet the following criteria:
- It is designed for action rather than just for looking (Charlesworth & Lind, 2007). Young children learn through active engagement with materials and ideas. For example, in the butterfly center Kelly provided journals for sketching the butterflies’ transformations, graphs to record the number of days in each stage of metamorphosis, and magnifying glasses for closer examination of the pupae and butterflies. If she had not provided these materials, children would have had limited engagement other than just looking at the butterflies. As stated by Greenman, “A creative science area is more laboratory than museum” (2005a, p. 269).
- It is relevant to the children in the classroom. The emphasis in science centers for this age needs to be on things that children can actually touch and feel. For example, in Hawaii this might include tide pools, oceans, volcanoes, rain, local flowers, and native insects. Children are curious about the world outside the classroom that affects their immediate lives. As they have relevant experiences with the world surrounding them, it allows for the joy of discovery and active experimentation.
- It is built upon current knowledge, background, and previous activities so that it is developmentally appropriate for the group of children using the center.
- It encourages “what if” statements (Charlesworth & Lind, 2007). One way of encouraging this is to provide open-ended materials that allow for different variations so that children can extend their experiments. For example, if experimenting with connected tubes to create a marble roll activity, the child should be able to take the tubes apart and assemble them in different ways. Different weights or sizes of marbles can also be provided for more variability. Other types of tubing can also increase the amount of variation.
- It stresses process skills (ask and reflect, plan and predict, act and observe, report and reflect) (Conezio & French, 2003, p. 11) by providing materials needed to perform these tasks such as ways of recording ideas and plans, materials for close observation, and ways of reflecting what the child has learned.
- It exposes children to specific content related to the topic being studied.
- It ties into bigger overriding concepts or “big ideas.” For example, in studying any topic relating to biology, some big ideas that can be stressed are life cycles and living versus nonliving. Even one- and 2-year-old children are “adept at concept acquisition.” This helps them to organize information and prevents the world from being a chaotic place (Gelman, 1999, p. 50).
- It allows for individual differences by providing open-ended material or a variety of tasks at different levels.
- It allows children to use the center independently:
- It encourages children to represent their knowledge (paper, graph paper, tape recorders, journals, recording sheets, clipboards, pencils, and markers).
- It contains resource materials such as books, posters, videos, and a computer.
- It contains inquiry tools such as magnifying glasses of different types, microscope, Petri dishes, scales, eyedroppers, pulleys, tweezers, twine, clay for imprints, specimen bags and boxes, and nets.
- It includes science content background sheets and a list of vocabulary to be stressed so adults can scaffold children’s learning. The background sheets should also include the “big ideas” or overriding concepts being stressed.
Perhaps because so many early childhood teachers are uncomfortable with science, science centers are often lacking or not fully developed in early childhood settings. It is important when developing a science center to make sure that it provides tools, resources, and materials needed for active engagement and for documenting learning. Children need time for in-depth exploration. It is unnecessary and counterproductive to change the center each week. However, it is important that the teacher adds materials and changes the center to answer new questions emerging from the children.
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