Science and young children: Bridge the gap

Help curious children bridge the gap between what they see and what they know with science concepts as they explore their world.

Science is all around us and its exploration is exciting for children. Young children are naturally curious and have an interest in learning more about the world around them as they discover how the different parts of their world interact. They want to know the “how’s” and “why’s” of everything, and they want to check it out for themselves and see if it’s really right. Science activities give even young children opportunities to explore their world, gain new knowledge and learn to understand the process of exploration. This means that science is important for children of all ages.

Science activities teach children important life skills such as reasoning and problem solving, creative thinking and critical thinking. These are skills that will be important to them in all walks of life and will enable them to be more successful in a variety of areas. Many of us may have learned to be hesitant about exploring science and as a result are uncertain of our own skills; however, it can be a lot of fun for parents and caregivers to break that cycle and explore science with their children.

If you have some distilled water, dish soap, a little glycerin and a pair of clean, inexpensive gloves “Bouncing Bubbles” can be great fun for the entire family. Using a bubble wand or pipette, blow a bubble and let children watch it and try to touch it. When they touch the bubble it is likely to break. Blow several bubbles and ask kids why they think the bubbles keep popping. Ask them if they think they could bounce a bubble in their hands and let them try. After a minute or so, give each child a clean glove or even a new sock to put on their hand and try the activity again. This time, the bubble won’t pop and they can even try to bounce it.

Once everyone has had a chance to try it and has been success in bouncing a bubble, ask children what they think made the difference? Try the activity again using a dirty sock – what happens? Ask them if they have any other ideas of things that bubbles might bounce on? After lots of exploration and discussion about your findings, you’ll find that dirt and oil are actually what break the surface of the bubble and cause it to break. By using the clean glove or sock, the bubble is not as likely to break. By the same token, any surface that is greasy or dirty will most surely cause the bubble to pop by breaking its surface.

In order for activities like this to provide valuable learning experiences for children, adults have important roles to play. Adults need to help create the opportunity; assure a safe environment; manage materials; encourage youth to try; and challenge their thinking. Ask open ended questions which encourage children to think and discover on their own and listen to what they say. Good open ended questions will begin something like “I wonder why…”; “What do you think would happen if …”; “What else do you think might work?”

Michigan State University Extension educators want to stress that science truly is all around us and giving young children the opportunity to view and explore will help send them on an educational journey that never ends.