Science education for young learners should always have a goal and an overall direction, rather than the students just completing a series of random experiments. In our STEM: Germs class, we learned that three basic shapes of bacteria are rods (bacilli), spirals (spirilla), and spheres (cocci).
Children need opportunities to participate in many different activities that teach the same concept. Here, they are sorting rods, spirals and spheres.
We made necklaces with rod-shaped "bacteria".
Sensory play is especially important for young children because it encourages them to investigate and explore using scientific processes on their own. Here they are pretending these water beads are sphere-shaped "bacteria".
Incorporating art helps build fine motor skills while reinforcing the three main shapes of bacteria that we are learning about.
We learned that there are many types of good bacteria, such as the kind in yogurt that helps us digest our food. Some kinds of bad bacteria can make us sick if they get into our bodies. Our skin usually protects us, but sometimes when we get a cut, we need a bandaid to help keep the bacteria out.
When bad germs do get inside of us, different parts of our body work to protect us and keep us from getting sick. These kids are making "white blood cells" out of play dough.
The white blood cells attack each germ (the play dough covers them). This was a fun activity that the kids kept asking to repeat.
We learned about how germs spread by using a lotion that was activated by black light. Whatever we touched (including each other) would glow!
We also used messy paint to demonstrate how germs can spread.
We demonstrated how germs can spread by filling balloons with paint (germs) and pretending to sneeze (POP!)!
We learned that germs are EVERYWHERE, but we made boogers because they seem especially germy.
We made more germs with black lights and neon paints.
We learned that viruses are different than bacteria, but can also make us sick. The kids made 3D viruses and sorted pictures of bacteria and viruses.
We learned that viruses reproduce by making copies of themselves, just like tessellations repeat their pattern.
We used pepper and dish soap to demonstrate how important it is to wash our hands. (The dish soap repels the pepper.)
We practiced washing our hands the correct way and sequencing handwashing pictures so we could remember.
And, of course we made cupcakes and decorated them like germs!
STEM Anatomy: The Skeletal System
Our STEM Anatomy classes have been working hard and learning many new things. We began our class by learning about the skeletal system.
Without bones to hold us up, our bodies would be like floppy spagetti. Like toilet paper rolls, our bones are not solid all the way through. This makes them lighter so we can walk and run!
How can our bones hold all of our weight if they're not solid? We conducted a demonstration to show that when our bones are standing tall, they can hold more weight than when laying flat on the ground.
Joints are the places where are bones come together so we can bend and twist! We explored by moving our bodies to determine where we have joints. We sorted pictures of body parts by whether they were joints or not joints.
We learned that hinge joints can bend and unbend in only one direction, while pivot joints can twist.
We demonstrated how hinge joints work by taping two blocks together so that they can bend just like a hinge joint!
We learned that x-rays are pictures of our bones.
We have LOTS of bones! They are many different sizes and shapes.
We made bones of different sizes and shapes out of salt dough.
We went hunting for bones in the sand table.
We determined where those bones might fit in our bodies - My goodness, that's a lot of phalanges!
This is our sample spine. Our vertebrae are protecting our spinal cord. Each vertebrae is surrounded by cartilage disks that keep the bones from grinding together. All these small bones in our back give us the ability to bend and twist our backs.
Our bones give us the ability to stand up tall and joints enable us to bend and grab, but what does our brain do? We'll learn about that in our next post on the Nervous System!
We teach young children measurement because this helps them begin making connections between spatial concepts and number.
We begin to work with measurement by developing an understanding of longer vs. shorter objects and comparing the length of various objects.
When a child can put a set of objects in order from shortest to tallest, or tallest to shortest, he is ready to begin learning how to measure things using nonstandard units.
We use nonstandard units like paperclips, markers, or rods when we begin teaching measurement rather than standard units of measurement, like inches or feet. This helps children develop a concept of measurement and counting units while eliminating "tick counting errors".
A "tick counting error" is when a child is counting tick marks on a ruler and begins by counting at the first mark, zero. When using nonstandard units, such as rods, there are no tick marks and the student learns that the unit is the length of one rod.
The students must learn accurate alignment in order to correctly measure with nonstandard or standard units.
These skills develop over extended periods of time, through exposure to many different experiences.
In this blog entry we deal only with measuring the length of objects, but children also need plenty of opportunities to measure weight and volume.
Teaching Children How to Read
Once a child has developed the ability to distinguish between letter sounds (auditory discrimination) and the ability to visually discriminate letters (visual discrimination), he may be ready to read. First we teach the letter sounds. Teaching letter names is not necessary for a child to learn to read, and is more often than not a hindrance in the early stages of reading.
Children who have learned to focus on letter names will have a hard time re-learning that the letter "C" does not say "see" and the letter "G" does not say "j".
Once a child has learned all of the letter sounds, we begin to put the sounds together. We start with these ladders. The children use their fingers to climb up and down the ladders, reading the sounds as they go. Learning these beginning chunks helps the children become smooth readers. Rather than sounding out each individual sound in "sss... aaa... ttt...", the child can sound the word out in two chunks "sa" and "t".
Synthesizing is the skill required for your child to put the sounds together. We play lots of games practicing synthesizing, so that it is natural and easy when your child begins reading. I may show a child a set of pictures and ask, "Can you point to the ba...t?"
In the beginning, the children play lots of games finding pictures that begin with the word chunks that they are learning to read.
When the children have become proficient at their beginning ladders, we start to build words by adding ending sounds.
Reading is not just the act of putting sounds together. It is important to make sure that the children are comprehending the words they are reading.
A child may read: Ca...t. Cat!
I ask: What is that?
Child: A cat. It chases mice!
We keep practicing the same thing over and over again until the child has mastered the concept.
If we move on before a child has mastered a concept he will have even greater trouble with the next concept. A small hole in a child's learning will compound itself with each new concept until it becomes a huge gap. For example, if a child has 75% mastery of the "short a" words and we move on the the "short e" words, the child will likely only gain 70% mastery of the "short e" words. Since 70% is usually considered a passing grade, we could move on to the "short i" words and lessen the child's understanding even further. This child would certainly begin to experience confusion and frustration.
I have very high expectations for my students, but studies link teachers with high expectations to high performance from students. (Studies also, unfortunately, link the reverse. Teachers with low expectations yield low performance results from students.)
Some teachers may argue that it's best not to stop a child to correct him while he is reading. I disagree. "Had" and "has" are very closely spelled, but they are different verb tenses and that difference is important.
A child who is truly gaining proficiency in reading should be able to read new words, and even nonsense words, by following the phonics rules he has learned.
Ready to Read
Our Ready to Read class has been building auditory discrimination by working on the "sss" sound.
We've also been working on rhyming sounds. In this game, all of the pictures on the "Toss Away" board rhyme (tail, sail, jail, mail, pail, nail...). The children toss each picture away as it is called. This game is to expose children to rhyme and, since we are using many words from the same rhyme family, it is a good game for beginners.
In addition to auditory skills, we are working on visual skills to prepare these children for reading readiness.
"Design Matching Dominoes" help build visual discrimination skills. Children with strong visual discrimination skills will be able to distinguish between similar words and benefit from this more challenging activity.
We use the game below to isolate and strengthen auditory or visual memory. Three shapes are either called out or shown to the child. The child recalls what he saw or heard to complete his "Remember Me" board.
We always complete our board from left to right. Since that is how we read, it is a habit that we have to form. We are very adamant about forming a habit of left -to-right directionality, since children who have not developed this habit may later be diagnosed with dyslexia.
Art helps children develop many important skills such as creativity, communication, problem solving, fine motor, and social/emotional skills.
In these Mondrian projects, the children had to problem solve by figuring out "What rectangle can I fit here?" Some children answered the question "How can I make more colors?"
The children express themselves in very different ways. By using these stampers, they are developing fine motor skills and building hand strength.
During Art, the children are learning to share the materials. They can can show their individual uniqueness through their own art, and this helps develop a positive self concept. Each child is learning that she has control over what she puts on her paper.
When a child shows us her art, we say things like
"Look at how much yellow you used!"
"You used a different technique with your stampers and look at how the blue, red and yellow exploded together!"
"I can tell that you were very careful to keep your red, yellow, and blue separate from each other on your paper."
When we say things like "It's beautiful! I love it!" and "Great job!" we're not actually letting the child know that we see what she created.
Children are learning to express themselves through art. Sometimes it is the creation that is the expression, and sometimes it is the process of creating through which the child is expressing herself.
In these Picasso drawings, children are following directions and building their vocabulary by using positional words.
Elementary Art has tremendous value on many different levels for children. We need to keep this in mind as some public schools are eliminating art programs from their curriculum.
Patterning in Preschool
Patterning is an important mathematical skill. It is one way we turn chaos into order.
Proficiency in multiplication, addition and skip counting (and reading!) all require an understanding of patterning.
Some children have a hard time creating a pattern on their own. Pattern copying and adding on to an existing pattern are important skills children need before they can create their own patterns.
When children become proficient at creating patterns, we introduce other variables to the pattern. For example, when children were asked to read the pattern below, at first they said "orange, blue, purple, orange, yellow, yellow!"
They quickly discovered that there was no way to tell what comes next by looking at the colors, and eventually concluded that the pattern here is "adult, child, adult child," or "tall, short, tall short."
Of course, we practiced more patterns with extraneous variables so the children would continue to solidify and build onto their patterning foundation.
Visual Discrimination plays a critical role in a child's ability to learn to recognize letters, numbers and other symbols. It is one of the important building blocks in learning to read.
If a child can not discriminate the letter "b" from the letter "h", he may read "bit" instead of "hit". Later on, this may be seen as a "learning disability" when it is really just underdeveloped visual discrimination skills.
In this game, each child is given the same set of blocks.
The "teacher" builds a structure with the blocks. The rest of the children replicate the structure.
We get a lot of practice because each child gets a chance to be the teacher.
Teacher: Every item in this hoop follows a rule. Each item is the same in some way. Can you tell me how all of these objects are the same?
The rule is, everything in this hoop must be.....
Student: Everything is red.
Teacher: Everything is red? (points to a bear) Is this red? (points to triangle) is this red?
Now we can say that the rule for this hoop is that everything inside this hoop must be red.
What about this hoop? What could be the rule for this hoop? Everything in this hoop must be....
Student: They're all different colors!
Teacher: They are all different colors. That's a way that they are different. Is there a way that they are all the same?
Student: They're red!
Teacher: Yes, some of them are red. Are all of them red? (points to red one) Is this one red? (points to another red) Is this one red? (points to a yellow) Is this one red? (points to a blue) Is this one red?
Are all of them red?
Teacher: Then that can't be our rule. Everything in this hoop is the same in some way. How are they all the same?
Student: They're bears.
Teacher: Are they ALL bears? (points to one) Is this a bear? (points to another) Is this a bear?
Our rule for this hoop can be that everything in this hoop must be a bear.
Teacher slides the two hoops so that they overlap.
Teacher (points to the yellow hoop): Everything in this hoop must be a...
Teacher (points to the red hoop): And everything in this hoop has to be...
Teacher: And here, in the center, it is part of the yellow hoop (teacher outlines yellow hoop with pointer finger). It is also part of the red hoop (teacher outlines red hoop). Since it is part of this hoop, everything in here has to be a bear. It is also part of this hoop (teacher outlines red hoop), which means that it also has to be....
Teacher: To belong in the center, it has to be a bear and it has to be...
Teacher: Can you find anything that belongs in the center? Something that is a bear and red?
The products used in this lesson are Attribute Blocks and Counting Bears.
I highly recommend both of these products for their versatility in math instruction.
Our goal, as preschool teachers, is to expose every child to each of the skills required for a strong foundation in reading and writing.There are five main areas into which we group our Language Arts Standards: Fine Motor Skills, Auditory Skills, Visual Skills, Thinking/Conceptual, and Language.
This blog entry will cover the Academic Standards that fall under Visual Skills.
Visual Memory - This is the ability to remember and repeat a sequence of pictures or colors that has been presented solely through visual means.
Visual Figure-Ground Discrimination - Visual Figure-Ground Discrimination in the ability to distinguish an object from it's background.
Can Determine Alike/Different
Closure - Closure is the ability to recognize an object even when a child can only see part of it. Later, this will help the child to quickly recognize words by their general shape or arrangement of letters without having to attend to each individual letter.
Visual Skills are just one small part of preschool Language Arts. We have broken Visual Skills into seven standards:
Visual Figure-Ground Discrimination
Can Determine Alike/Different
In our classroom, each lesson, game or classroom material has been intentionally planned and placed in the room to fulfill our Academic Content Standards.
Wendy Joy Yohman
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