Science ideas for young children: Gloves and mittens

With winter weather gear, you can learn about adaptation and science.

As I was waiting for the windows to defrost at the end of the driveway with my 4-year-old son, he was hungry for a snack and I had some graham crackers in the car. As he struggled to eat the crackers with his mittens on, I asked him lots of questions about adaptation and evolution. Although he didn’t recognize it that way, it was still a great learning experience.

Here are some questions you can ask and experiments you can conduct with young children:

  1. What makes gloves different from mittens? Are there things you can do with gloves that you cannot do with mittens? Why might you use mittens rather than gloves?
  2. Have “races” to see if you can get gloves or mittens on faster.
  3. Try picking up objects of different sizes with gloves and mittens. Why is it more difficult?
  4. Try tucking your thumb inside the mitten so you have “paws.” Can you pick anything up? What animals have paws like this? Can they pick things up? What might they use instead of their hands to pick things up? Can animals with paws do anything better than we can?
  5. Try using your thumb and pointer finger like a crab claw and see what you can and cannot pick up.
  6. If you have pets or livestock, ask children to notice how they carry things. What do they use? Do any of your pets have thumbs or fingers? How are they the same or different than ours?
  7. Are there any wild animals that have thumbs? Try looking at pictures online or in magazines. Do animals with hands or thumbs live in different places than those with only paws?
  8. What about birds? Can birds pick things up with their wings? Do they pick things up with their feet or beak?
  9. Do some animals pick things up with their mouths? Can people pick things up with their mouths? Is there anything different between a human mouth and an animal mouth? Are all animal mouths the same? How is a bird’s beak different from a dog’s mouth? How is a dog’s mouth different from a cat’s mouth? Do dogs and cats pick things up differently?
  10. Put some clean food items on a plate and have children try to pick them up without using their hands. If you have pets or livestock, have children closely observe animals eating and see if they can emulate the behavior.

Have fun playing and thinking about how different creatures, including humans, can adapt to different environments.

Michigan State University Extension encourages families, daycares, school activities, 4-H clubs or any group working with young children to conduct these experiments. The focus of these lessons aren’t to simply impart knowledge, but to facilitate the joy of discovery and the exploration of the world around us. This is not designed to “give youth the answers,” but to empower them to ask questions and figure things out on their own. When a young person asks a question, resist the urge to answer it, and instead ask, “What do you think?”

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