Temperature is a measurement of the warmth or coldness of air, water, or any substance or item. It is usually measured with some type of standard value, such as degrees Fahrenheit or degrees Celsius. What is the meaning, notion, or concept of temperature to a young child? Perhaps one of the first temperature-related words a toddler learns is “Hot!” When motivated by safety issues, careful caregivers are quick to help toddlers learn what is hot and why it is important not to touch or eat something too hot. Other contexts of temperature for young children include climate, cooking, a weather person, an indoor thermostat or thermometer, an outdoor thermometer, or a people thermometer.
As children experience temperature daily, they begin to have a sense of what happens to the temperature at different times of the day, season, or year. They may notice that in the morning when they go to school, they wear a sweater or a jacket. Then, during outside play later in the day, they are too warm to wear outer garments. Then at night they feel the temperature drop again. Observing these temperature changes helps children to suggest theories about what happens to the temperature across their day.
Likewise, as children experience changes in seasons, they begin to generalize what happens across the seasons. What types of activities or events happen in the summer and what activities or events happen in the winter? Children can begin to associate these events with climate and temperature. Broad ideas of temperature measurement can be made in these contexts. When it is in the 80s (degrees Fahrenheit), we want to go swimming and drink cold lemonade. When it is in the teens (degrees Fahrenheit), we want to bundle up, go ice skating, and drink hot chocolate. These broad generalizations help children to develop concepts for units of measure of temperature.
Children begin to understand that it snows when it is very cold outside, below 32 degrees Fahrenheit or 0 degrees Celsius. Similarly, they want to wear shorts when it is very hot outside, say, in the 80s (degrees Fahrenheit) or in the 30s (degrees Celsius). Children also begin to notice what happens in their environment during different temperatures. A cold snap will cause leaves to change color; very hot temperatures without rain cause plants to wilt; an early frost will destroy some plants and vegetables; or certain temperatures will cause hail or sleet to precipitate from the sky.
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