Playdoh + Glowsticks + Flashlights = Exciting Learning Fun!
Having a four year old at home who is very interested in Science and Engineering keeps me busy looking for something to challenge or intrigue him. Today, he so proudly brought me that Earth he made. I have been building a 4th grade Earth, Sun, and Moon curriculum bundle this week, so of course we had to turn his Earth creation into a science lesson!
He used blue and green playdoh to make the model Earth. We added a glow-stick for the Earth’s axis (glow-sticks make everything more exciting), and took it to the dark hallway for some observation. He recently learned about the reason for day and night on the Storybots TV show, so this was a perfect observation for him. Once in the dark hallway, we talked about the axis and how the Earth spins on it. Using a flashlight, we demonstrated how the side of Earth facing the Sun experiences day while the side facing away from the Sun experiences night. When I asked him to spin the Earth on its axis, he was able to see the locations around his world experience day, then night, then day again.
Little things like this seem commonplace for grown-ups like ourselves, but kids have wonder and amazement running wild through their veins. I will never forget how amazed my fifth graders were each year when I boiled water and showed them evaporation. It is something I see every time I cook, but those kiddos sat and stared enthralled in the simple act of physics.
I have read study after study explaining the importance in play for young learners. The American Academy of Pediatrics says, “Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development. It is through play that children at a very early age engage and interact in the world around them.”
Play allows children to build essential skills, while building schema.
I have spent this year working with Pre-K kiddos two days a week at a private preschool. I learned very quickly that any “learning” we did disguised as play was a huge success. My teaching partner and I have turn each of our lessons into a playtime or craftivity. The kiddos are engaged, they are learning a lot, and they look forward to our centers. Most of all they look forward to our Mad Science Days! A little theme based science experiment with some goggles and lab coats make memories for those kiddos that will stick with them through science classes in their future. We let them observe a big model of clouds and rain in the water cycle, make ice cream in baggies to see how liquid can turn to ice when its cold enough, and they got to draw their favorite parts on dry erase boards. A few kiddos even asked how to spell some of the important words they remembered making my teacher heart very happy.
Teaching older kids is really not much different! My 8th graders loved traveling through the Convection Currents process, stopping at each lab station along their journey through the classroom to see what the next step that was. Either reaching a card to read or a lab to observe along the way, they would record their findings in their passport. They talked to each other in passing about something neat they had seen, they smiled as they worked, and they remembered. The end product was using their passport to draw a diagram of convection currents. An image they could visually create and remember while processing the lesson.
In fifth grade science, I turned every unit of lesson material I was supposed to teach into a game, a scavenger hunt, or an art project. Getting moving, getting creative, and playing with friends, kept my ten year olds engaged and learning. I would see them making our Science Says motions while they thought through a question on a test. Another happy teacher heart moment. Play made our lessons and content memorable. And, as an extra bonus, it helped them do well on standardized testing.
If you just allow your students to play, create, explore, and investigate the “simple” things of the world around them, you might just have interested and engaged kids growing and thriving in your class!