Rocket Science

IMG_2495Are dinosaurs real, or make-believe? If we place a marble in a glass of water will it sink or float? How do planes fly? If you and your friends laid down head to toe, how many of you would it take to reach the length of a Stegosaurus? Curiosity about our natural world is fundamental to a love of science, and in our Skills for School classrooms, we’re working to prepare our students for elementary school and beyond by igniting their passion for experimentation and discovery.

It seems that nearly every day we hear about the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics education in our children’s classrooms. Collectively known as STEM, these disciplines are considered essential to the vitality of the American workforce, and, over the past decade, educational institutions throughout the U.S. have invested heavily in preparing students to thrive in an economy that is increasingly driven by the tech sector.

To help our children build foundations for school success in these areas, we create lessons centered on parts of the natural world that they gravitate towards. Children are interested in learning about the world around them, so we use topics like dinosaurs, machinery, and weather to guide that excitement into learning opportunities around measurement and the scientific method — the fundamentals of physical science.

During one popular unit on transportation, the students were curious about why boats float when so many objects sink. Together the class identified items that they’d like to test, then made a chart listing each item along with their predications on what would sink or float. Simple activities like these introduce children to the basic methodologies of science and are easily replicated at home so children and their parents can share a learning experience together.

Children are born little scientists, and are constantly manipulating their environment to see what happens. It may seem like a stretch to say that an 8 month old is learning physics, but they are. When babies sit in their highchairs and drop a toy off the edge to see how it lands, they’re exploring their world — they’re learning about gravity and natural forces. We focus on developing a foundation for the science and math skills they’ll need and use throughout their lives, starting with elementary school.

Valerie Dorschner is a licensed Early Childhood Education Teacher with over 20 years of experience. She leads Neighborhood House’s Skills for School preschool program, serving 40 children every week at locations in Highland Park and on St. Paul’s West Side.