This week's guest blogger is Heather Posner of the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito, CA. One widely understood theory of learning today is that children, indeed learners of any age, build meaning through a process of interacting with others, objects and the environment. Heather's post highlights how out-of-school time educators are in an ideal position to support this meaning-making, even when it at first glance it appears that children are 'only playing'.
Encouraging Young Children’s Scientific Inquiry
Written and photographed by Heather Posner
At the Bay Area Discovery Museum we are dedicated to nurturing childhood creativity. One of the most distilled experiences we offer is our Not-A-School Creative Enrichment program, for children ages two-year nine months – 5 years old, which runs throughout the school year. I have the great pleasure of leading children through inquiry based learning experiences which builds a foundation for science learning later on, and supports children’s natural curiosity.
We are blessed with not only 7.5 acres within the boundaries of our museum, but all of Fort Baker (at the foot on the Golden Gate Bridge in Sausalito) outside our fence to explore and discover. A particularly rich learning environment is the little beach adjacent to our site. In good weather we visit this place nearly every week and find an abundance of life and natural materials to view and experiment with.
One day we arrived to find a large piece of wood near the rivulet that runs down from the hillside:
One little boy put it in the water to see what would happen. He was able to see how the wood floated downstream and tried other ways of moving the wood from place to place:
Soon enough other children became interested in his experiment. They worked together to try to steer what they had come to think of as a boat. They tested out whether the boat could carry passengers such as rocks and sticks:
Eventually they realized that by working together they could keep the ship afloat and the passengers safe on board:
Although some adults may wonder about the value of this type of play, it is clear that these children have in fact gone through a simplified and age appropriate version of the scientific method:
• Formulate a question
One very important outcome, in addition to their process, is their use of collaboration to test theories and try new things. This is one of the ways we in informal science education can facilitate creative thinking, by supporting children's curiosity and asking questions that inspire them to continue exploring.