How To Introduce Science to Infants and Toddlers

This article outlines some techniques and materials, including storybooks, which can be used by parents, grandparents, and teachers to improve a child’s cognitive development and academic success.  The activities incorporate learning strategies that have a basis in educational research in order to engage young children and strengthen their vocabulary, creativity, and understanding of some science concepts.

In addition, ideas within this article can be used by parents, grandparents, or teachers as a template to develop future teachable moments. [Note: Some applicable national education standards for kindergartners are listed within this article that relate to the incorporated techniques and/or subject matter.]

Storybooks:   

Fletcher and the Falling Leaves by Julia Rawlinson

Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf by Lois Ehlert

The above storybooks can be accessed online, at a library, or at a bookstore and can be read over-and-over again to young children in order to build their thinking and communication skills. In addition, these storybooks and others, can focus young children on some of the themed activities detailed below.

The Psychology of “Let Me Tell You a Story:”  Science has yielded some fascinating insights into the way our brains respond to stories.  Researchers at Washington University in St Louis studied the levels of brain activation while participants read aloud excerpts from a story to a group of listeners. The research team discovered that far from just passively taking in the story, the listeners were instead living the experiences alongside the character in the story.  

For example, neurons in areas of the brain that are related to movement of the hand and grasping with the hand lit up when the character in the story picked up an object, and neurons in the brain related to vision fired as the character looked around. Even more interesting, both the reader and the listener experienced similar patterns of activation in the brain during this activity and also when they told and listened to unrehearsed stories from their own lives.

The researchers suggest that in order to better comprehend a story, we ground the activities about which we’re hearing within our own real-world experiences.  These findings show the incredible influence that storytelling can have. An effective narrative can sweep up the listener and cause them to vicariously live the tale.

Fletcher and the Falling Leaves storybook:  Below are some (1) key themes, (2) reasons why this storybook was selected for the article, and (3) reading strategies for adults.  This story:

  • Can be used to discuss why leaves fall off of some trees during the fall/autumn season, introducing the concept of seasonal changes.
  • Introduces a character with a range of emotions, such as compassion and concern.  Adults can emote as they read this story aloud.
  • Exhibits close observations of one’s surroundings and an attachment to nature. This can lead to a personal exploration of the natural world within one’s neighborhood.

Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf storybook:  Below are some (1) key themes, (2) reasons why this storybook was selected for the article, and (3) reading strategies for adults.  This story:

  • Is a real-life, personal story; a story of childhood memories.
  • Could promote the sharing of personal stories and memories by the reader and listener.
  • Provides extended learning opportunities at parks, in the yard/neighborhood, at plant nurseries, etc.
  • The theme associated with autumn enables the teaching adult to explain a greatly misunderstood science topic: what causes seasons, including the fact that Earth travels around the Sun.  [Note: According to Philip Sadler, the Frances W. Wright Senior Lecturer in the Department of Astronomy and director of the science education department at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, studies have shown that as many as 95 percent of people, including most college graduates, hold the incorrect belief that the seasons are the result of the Earth moving closer to or further from the sun. See the information below for a concise explanation of what actually causes seasonal change.]

FYI: Autumn ~ What Causes Seasons

Seasons are caused by the tilt of the Earth on its axis and weather is influenced by the season.  Because of the Earth’s tilt on its axis, some portions of the Earth receive more of the Sun’s direct light than other portions of the Earth during its revolution around the Sun.  When it is winter in the Northern Hemisphere, it is summer in the Southern Hemisphere and visa versa.

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Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts (for Kindergarten): These are national education standards which many states recognize and utilize in the classroom. Notice how the standards below align with the suggested material to be taught.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.K.4 Describe familiar people, places, things, and events and, with prompting and support, provide additional detail.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.K.5 Add drawings or other visual displays to descriptions as desired to provide additional detail.

Next Generation Science Standards: Kindergarten – Earth Science 3 – 1: Use a model to represent the relationship between the needs of different plants or animals and the places they live. [Note: a plant needs to distribute its seeds; seeds can be distributed by wind, animals, etc.]

Kindergarten – Life Science 1 – 1: Use observations to describe what plants and animals need to survive.

Themed Activities at Home to Strengthen STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) Education and School-readiness Skills: Practice the following activities at home with your children/grandchildren.

  • Leaf Shapes, Sizes, Smells, and Colors:  Visit a nursery, a park, or even take a walk around your own yard or neighborhood to look at, carefully touch, then rub and smell different types of leaves.  Carefully observe and describe the similarities and differences between the different leaves; encourage your child to use descriptive words.

Explain to your child: Fuzziness and strong smells often discourage animals from eating the leaves. However, smells from the flower region can attract pollinators.  Stiff, waxy leaves, tiny leaves, and light-colored leaves indicate that the plant requires little water to survive. Large leaves indicate that the plant requires lots of water to survive.  

  • Make Your Own Leaf Man (or Creature):  After comparing (how are they alike) and contrasting (how are they different) leaves, pick some leaves, then have your child use these leaves or silk leaves (purchased at a craft store), tree seeds, and glue to make their own “leaf man” or “leaf creature” as an art project. The final project can be glued onto a piece of paper if you like.  Encourage your child to tell a story about their leaf man or leaf creature. Help your child elaborate on the story by continuing their story (for example, use prompts, such as “What happens next?”) or by creating a new, expanded ending to their story that lengthens the adventure associated with their leaf man/creature.
  • Tree Seeds:  During autumn, while on a nature walk, look at the trees to see if you can spot some tree seeds. Weed seeds and some flower seeds can also be found during autumn.  Use the attached template to make a paper model of a “helicopter” seed. [Instructions: Cut the paper template along all of the solid lines; fold along all of the dotted lines; then attach a small paperclip to the bottom of the folded portion of the paper to represent the weight of the seed itself.  After cutting, fold flap “A” forward and flap “B” backward so that the folded paper model of a seed resembles a capital letter “T,” then throw the “helicopter” seed model upward into the air and watch it twirl downward.]  Seeds can be distributed by wind (as in the case of this seed model), water, popping from the pod, or being eaten by or attaching onto animals. Discuss with your child what mode of movement the variety of seeds you discover might use to move far away from the “mother” plant.  A distance from the “mother” plant is needed to allow enough space, sunshine, nutrients, water, and air for the “baby” plants to survive and thrive.
  • Making Bird Treats:  Have your child use a cookie cutter to cut fun shapes from slices of bread.  Poke a hole in the bread “cookie” to allow it to be tied with ribbon onto a branch. Then whip an egg white with a teaspoon of water and brush the mixture onto the bread “cookie.”  Have your child sprinkle or dip the sticky bread into birdseed. Set the “birdseed cookie” onto a countertop overnight to dry, then hang this bird treat from a tree branch using some ribbon.  Make sure the ribbon doesn’t make a loop, but rather a straight line, as it might entangle the birds. Enjoy watching the birds as they are attracted to the treat.
  • Let Me Tell You a Story: Preface a personal story with the phrase, “Let me tell you a story,” then tell a story of your “relationship” with a tree or trees.  For example, perhaps you climbed trees, picked fruit from a tree branch, swung on a swing that hung from a tree branch, gathered pine cones for holiday decorations, played in a pile of leaves, had a cat that liked to climb trees, etc.  Prompt your child to describe his/her own experience with a tree and/or begin to create experiences with your child that they can tell to others. Have your child draw a picture of a tree and explain what trees need in order to survive, such as a space to grow, some dirt for nutrients and support, some water, air, and sunshine.  These necessities can be added to the drawing of the tree. You can also discuss how trees produce fruit (such as an apple or orange) and how people and animals might enjoy eating that fruit. Children can draw fruit on their drawing of a tree or attach stickers (sticky dots, sparkly jewels, etc.) to represent fruit.

Helicopter Seed Template below:

Description: Seed Dispersal template copy

You can put them to work, and help you keep spiders out of the sandbox.

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