The first time that I was asked to teach a workshop it was on the subject of science. The conference organizer said, “let’s get young minds wired for science by introducing the need for a science center in the preschool classroom.”
The venue was an annual conference that provided training hours for preschool teachers. While I was thrilled to be asked to teach. The topic scared me to death. Science was one of my least favorite subjects in school and I could not imagine what materials and experiences that four and five-year-old children could do within the defined space of a science center.
Science was probably the weakest area at my own child care center. How was I going to stand up in front of conferees and talk about the importance of this space for young children?
Science Center for Preschool—Set up to Observe
Thankfully, I had several months to research. As a way of preparing, I began setting up a science center in my own child care center. What I found was amazing!
The children came equipped with exploring and investigating skills. They were drawn like magnets to water, sand, and collectible items from nature. It was fascinating to see the learning that I noted each day.
These are the materials that I added to my science center:
- Seasonal flowers and plants, seashells, and rocks.
- Books about identifying butterflies, clouds, birds, animals, and trees.
- Small fish tank on a lower shelf for observing.
- Sandbox with scoops, measuring cups and spoons, buckets, etc.
- Water table that was open for some of the time. (It required constant visual attention).
- For novelty, new items were added and other things removed each week.
- Magnifying glass
- Postage Meter
- Measuring devices—stopwatch, yard stick, ruler, tape measure, etc.
- Containers—plastic trays, plastic bottles, plastic cups, shoe boxes, egg cartons, etc.
- Collecting containers—paper bags, plastic buckets, etc.
- Recording Devises—digital recorder, camera, notebooks with pencils
Some Teacher-Directed Activities
Teacher directed science activities provided additional interest in the science center. For example, the children did not know what to do with the measuring cups and spoons until the teacher or I provided a fun activity. They needed direction on how to take a photograph and use a recorder. Through a short fifteen-minute teacher-lead activity, the children learned how to use and take care of materials and supplies.
We took walks around the playground or a nearby park. I gave each child an important assignment. They understood that they would share when they got back to the classroom. Some of the responsibilities were: (1) Cameras for capturing photos, (2) Notepads and pens for taking notes and drawing pictures (They were able to read their scribbles), (3) Recorders for the sounds, and (4) Buckets for treasures such as leaves, shells, nuts, etc.
Arriving Back in the Classroom
After arriving back in the classroom, the children and teachers discussed the field trip. The teacher said,
“Listen to the sounds of the crickets that Michelle recorded. Kimberly took pictures of the trees. Would you pass those pictures around for the class to see? What is different about the two trees?”
After the brief circle time sharing, the teacher encouraged the children to display some of the things that they found. You might suggest that they invite other classes to the science center to observe the display. Treat the children like learners. Give them tools to investigate and explore. You will be surprised at the learning.
The Science Center
A carpenter built a large box with a lid that I filled with sanitized sand and added scoops, measuring cups, buckets, etc. This was an area that the children were always interested in visiting.
We also purchased a water table and added different containers for measuring. Sometimes I colored the water at times for fun and to renew interest. This is an area that MUST have constant supervision.
The Teacher’s Role
The teacher’s role in the science center is to set it up with new and different tools for investigating collecting and measuring things, recording sounds, taking photos, and much more. Encourage children to use all their senses in this area. See how to set-up a science center in the early childhood classroom by going to Extension.
Ways to Introduce a New Topic
You might introduce a future field trip by introducing the topic with a colorful book. For example, before going to look for different birds you could share a book with pictures of birds. It is important for the teachers to be able to recognize different birds, clouds, trees, plants, etc.
At times, I would make a science assignment. I might say to the children, “sometime this morning during free-choice time, I want you to go to the water-table and tell me how many cups the blue bucket will hold. When you have the answer come and tell me.” Of course, I kept a record of their responses.
Get the children interested in science by bringing in interesting items such as books, objects from nature, plastic animals and bugs to examine, etc.
Back to My Workshop on Science
I shared the truth about my fear of science with the conferees at the conference. I confessed that I had never promoted science because I had never liked science. After my confession, I began showing them how I had changed my own center to include science. I had pictures and anecdotal notes to share. Several of the center’s preschool teachers provided testimonials, too.
Since science is hands-on, I carried a trunk-load of materials to try to duplicate a science center in my workshop. We even went on a field trip and collected our own stuff to try to identify through books.
I received good feedback. It not only taught me things about the topic of science, but my center continued to focus on science until I sold it and moved on to teaching early childhood classes at Gaston College.
I hope that you begin to love the science center in preschool!