Read the blog post written by Dr. Elica Sharifnia, and learn how to embed science learning opportunities at home

Elica Sharifnia's headshot

By Elica Sharifnia, PhD. 

Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Marsico Institute for Early Learning at the University of Denver

About the authors: Elica Sharifnia, PhD, is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Marsico Institute for Early Learning at the University of Denver. Her research interests broadly center around better understanding how to best promote high-quality STEM teaching and learning for young children with the goal of informing educational practices in both the school and home context. She has a doctorate in Applied Developmental Psychology from the University of Miami and a B.A. degree in Neuroscience from Claremont McKenna College. Prior to graduate school, she worked as a research analyst doing early childhood STEM education research in the Center for Technology in Learning at SRI International and was a student teaching assistant at The Children’s School at Claremont McKenna College.

Everyday routines at home like bath time or dinner are a great way to support your child’s science learning! There is a widely held misperception that science is expensive and that we need many materials so we can complete an experiment. But we know that’s not true! A new framework helps us re-imagine science for kids! This new approach helps children learn science by DOING science…together! There are 3 parts:

  1. Practices: What is your child doing? For example, your child may be observing and asking questions about their world, planning and carrying out investigations to see how things work or analyzing and interpreting data as they investigate.
  2. Core ideas: What content are you exploring? For example, you may be exploring life science as you talk about the plants and animals you see outside on your walk or exploring physical science as you explore mixing ingredients as you bake.
  3. Crosscutting concepts: What are you trying to understand together? These are big ideas that you and your child will be understanding such as cause and effect (for example, adding soap and water help clean our dirty hands and soap and water also help us clean the dishes) or noticing how the structure of an object may affect the function of it (for example, a spoon is a good tool to help us eat soup because of the shape compared to a fork).

Below are some ways to build your lens for the science opportunities all around your home!

Cooking

Next time you prepare dinner…

  • Talk with your child about the ingredients and use of different senses (such as sight, touch, taste, hear and smell) to make observations about a variety of attributes (such as the color, texture, size, shape, weight, or temperature). For example, with cooking beans, you and your child can use your senses of sight and touch to talk about how the dried beans look and feel (such as “What do you notice about the color and the shape of the bean? How does it feel? Does it feel smooth or bumpy?).
  • Engage children in the science practice of using math such as counting the number of ingredients you have or measuring out the ingredients you need for your recipe using tools (for example, “How many ingredients are we going to use? Let’s count together or Let’s measure out 1 cup of water together using our measuring cup”).
  • As you cook, talk with your child about how the ingredients change, helping to support their understanding of stability and change. For example, with cooking rice, you and your child can make observations about the size and texture of the rice and how it changes from small and hard to bigger and softer when you cook the rice.

Doing Laundry

Even cleaning our dirty clothes is a great opportunity to engage young children in science learning!

  • If you happen to have a piece of clothing with a stain on it, ask your child to make observations about the clothing (for example, “How does the shirt feel? What do you notice about the stain?”).
  • Engage them in some problem solving by asking them to think about how you could clean the stain (for example, “What do we need to clean the stain? What should we do first?”), which is helping support children’s ability to plan and carry out investigations.
  • After running the clothing through the wash, ask your child to make observations again about the piece of clothing that had the stain on it (for example, “What do you notice about the shirt now? How does the shirt feel?”).
  • As your child makes observations, it is a great opportunity to help them think about cause and effect (for example, “What happened after we added the water and detergent?”, “When you add detergent and water to the stained shirt, it caused the stain to be removed!”). You can also extend your investigation by asking your children to further problem solve about how you could dry the clothing.

Bath time

There are lots of opportunities for science exploration with your little one during bath time! 

  • Start by asking your child to predict what will happen you hit the water with you hand (for example, “What do you think will happen when you hit the water with you hand?”).
  • Help support their understanding of physical science and think about the cause and effect relationship that happens when they hit the water with their hand (for example, “When you hit your hand on the water, it causes the water to splash). You could further extend this learning by investigating what happens when you use more force to hit the water!
  • If available, provide different sized measuring cups, buckets or bottles for your child during bath time. As your child explores with these materials, ask questions and help them make observations about the movement and the properties of the water (for example, “What happens when the cup is full?”).
  • Challenge your child to use math skills and engage in thinking about the crosscutting concept of scale, proportion, and quantity by asking them to make comparisons about which cup holds the most water (for example, “Which cup holds the most water? Let’s explore together”).

Although the new science framework is intended for kindergarten to 12th grade, it works for young children, starting at birth (Greenfield, Alexander, & Frechette, 2017)!

References

Greenfield, D. B., Alexander, A., & Frechette, E. (2017). Unleashing the Power of Science in Early Childhood: A Foundation for High-Quality Interactions and Learning. Zero to Three37(5), 13-21.

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  • We create a visual chore schedule and break it up into 1/3 for all 3 of us. We discuss how the schedule is equitable for all of us.

  • We talk about fractions and measurment at meals

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