Summer Skills Series: Critical Thinking

The ability to think through problems, anticipate the results of your actions and reflect on what you have done are all critical thinking skills. While these don’t fit neatly into the categories of reading, writing and arithmetic, they are definitely important skills for success in school and in life.

The brains of toddlers and many preschoolers aren’t ready to organize their thoughts and move through this kind of high-order thinking. Cause and effect experiences are a great start for this age group. Some age-appropriate activities that often create cause/effect experiences for toddlers include:

  • playing with blocks
  • digging and playing with sand (especially at a beach near a body of water)
  • water play
  • exploring outdoors and interacting with nature

Preschoolers can also develop these skills through the activities mentioned above. Help them add more thinking to their play by creating challenges:

  • Can you build a block wall strong enough to stand up to a rolling tennis ball?
  • How do you make a sand castle?
  • Can you figure out a way to make a boat that will float from these recycled materials?
  • If we wanted to find bugs or other creatures in the yard, where should we look?

Encourage older preschoolers and young school-age children to use their past experiences and knowledge about the world to think through a problem or challenge step by step, or predict what will happen when you lay out the steps for an experiment. Help to encourage problem-solving and critical thinking skills following these simple steps:

  1. Go to your local library and check out books on science experiments or cookbooks for children.
  2. Invite your child to choose an experiment or recipe that looks interesting.
  3. Encourage your child to write down their prediction for what will happen during this experiment.
  4. Help your child follow the steps outlined for the experiment or recipe.
  5. Invite your child to draw a picture of the end result. Talk about it. Was the prediction correct? Why or why not? Encourage your child to verbalize the steps of the experiment.

Following a step-by-step format and encouraging your child to make predictions and then reflect on the process step-by-step is a great way to help children to slow down, think about what they are doing and learn to organize their thoughts. Doing this through science or cooking experiments makes it fun and exciting for your child.

For more great activity ideas, check out World of Wonder’s Terrific Topics for ages 3-6.

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Birdwatching to Uncover Our Natural World

No matter where you live, chances are you see birds every day. The tall buildings of the city, parks large and small, suburban neighborhoods and rural areas all provide habitat for different kinds of birds. Give kids an opportunity to notice and watch the birds around you and you may be opening the door to new discoveries, a wealth of learning opportunities and maybe even a life-long appreciation of nature.

Here are some ideas for young birdwatchers:

  • Hang a bird feeder near a window (natural intelligence)
  • Create a bird-friendly habitat, even in an urban area, by setting out potted shrubs or other greenery and a bird bath (natural intelligence)
  • Get a book that identifies birds in your area (or look them up online) and help kids identify the birds they see (linguistic, logical/mathematical, spatial intelligences)
  • Encourage older kids to keep a bird journal where they can jot down or draw pictures of their observations (linguistic, spatial, natural intelligences)
  • Look for bird nests, try out binoculars (spatial, natural intelligences)
  • Look at bird feathers with a magnifying lens (spatial)
  • Act out the bird behaviors you see (natural, kinesthetic, intrapersonal intelligences)
  • Go for nature walks and talk about where you see birds and what they are doing (natural, kinesthetic, linguistic, interpersonal intelligences)

For even more great ideas and information on the wonderful benefits and discoveries children can enjoy just by taking notice of the birds around them, check out this article in Teaching Young Children Magazine.

Watching 2 Natural Playgrounds Part III

The snow is melting fast as winter comes to an end and this seemingly endless and trickling water supply has caused a flurry of activity on the teacher-and-kid-engineered playground.

Kids at work in a natural playground

A large puddle made much of the playground inaccessible, so the kids did some problem-solving and, on their own initiative, created a canal system to drain the water. The teachers say the project has occupied them all week.

The conversations I heard were amazing.

Child one, “I want to make the water over-flow here. How do you think we can make that happen?”

Child two, “What if we dumped more dirt inside?”

Child one, “Yeah! Let’s try it!”

Other children had a different solution to the puddle problem and worked with their teacher to create this make-shift bridge.

Kids got the help of a teacher to create this bridge

Most schools in this part of the country dread the spring snow-melt. We call it “mud season” and often at school the kids are encouraged to stay on the blacktop. They run in circles or hover near the teachers and wait to go back inside. Here the outdoor world has become a natural science laboratory. Parents know to pack extra mittens and make sure the boots are waterproof. And while it is definitely messy, it’s amazing to watch!

Click below for previous entries in this series:

Watching 2 Natural Playgrounds Part II

Watching 2 Natural Playgrounds Develop

Even Toddlers Love Science

Toddlers love exploring cause and effect. It’s amazing how a toddler (who’s short attention span is legendary) can spend what seems like hours “washing their hands”. They are fascinated by turning the water on and off, exploring what happens when they plug the drain, and watching the water pour off their finger tips. This is a toddler’s science mind at work, and it’s a thing of beauty.

Unfortunately, the mere mention of the word “science” can make many early childhood educators tremble. Science is not scary. It is all about figuring out how the world works. No wonder it is such a great fit for toddlers! Here are some simple ideas for bringing more science into your toddler program:

  • Give toddlers plenty of opportunities to pour, fill, spill and transfer materials. You can use anything- sand, water, rice, seeds, gravel. It gives toddlers the opportunity to explore weight and volume, encourages fine motor skills and is a great sensory experience.
  • Explore nature. Invite children to use all of their senses as they dig in the dirt, crawl around bushes, lift up rocks, pick flowers or gather sticks. This helps them to understand the systems and cycles in the natural world, promotes gross motor skills and is great for the senses.
  • Cook with toddlers. This might sound daunting, but simple recipes, like mashed potatoes, biscuits or pretzels, are great fun to do with toddlers, encourage fine motor development and teach the basics of matter (solid, liquid, gas) as well as nutrition.
  • Explore light. Play with a Plexiglas mirror in the sunshine and watch the reflection dance around, Play with making shadows. Look through colored lenses. This is a great way to explore some early earth science concepts.
  • Talk about everything. You don’t need explain things to toddlers, just ask them questions to get them thinking. What did you find under that rock? What is the ant doing? What do you see when you look through the red lens? How does it feel to stir the mix now that we’ve added the flour?
  • Take their lead and set up opportunities based on their interests.

Over the years the national emphasis on helping children as young as toddlers develop language and early literacy skills has proven effective in improving reading skills as children enter elementary school. It’s time we take the same approach with science.

For great ideas to help you explore science with toddlers, check out our downloadable toddler themes.

Great Ideas for Math and Science in Preschool

The folks at the National Institute for Early Education Research presented a great workshop at the NAEYC national conference in Washington DC in November 2009. The title was “Beyond Calendars and Today’s Weather” and focuses on improving the quality of Math and Science experiences for young children. They recently made the information from this workshop available as on online PDF.

Check it out! It’s easy to read and full of photographs of activity ideas and great information for preschool teachers. Use it to make the most of math and science opportunities in your classroom.

Remember, all of WoWKits Terrific Topics preschool units also have wonderful and creative hands-on math and science activities too!