PBS in the Classroom

Empowering Learning Through Science Exploration

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Educators Inspire Families to Develop Science Skills in Young Children

Whether it was observing the sway of leaves and branches due to the wind or mixing paint to create new colors, my two sons were deeply curious about the world around them, particularly when they were young. At age 4, I recall my son Julian asking, “When we drive through fog, are we driving through a cloud?” Young children persistently ask questions. In response to this question from my son, I responded, “What do you think?” I wanted him to continue thinking, questioning, and articulating his thoughts. Parents play a pivotal role in their child’s education from early bonding interactions in infancy through helping them navigate the waters of growing into adulthood.

A study conducted by EDC/SRI and funded by the Ready To Learn Initiative, found that 99% of parents want to be involved in their children’s education. The first-of-its-kind study, entitled What Parents Talk About When They Talk About Learning: A National Survey About Young Children and Science claims that ‘the early years in a child’s life are the most transformative and essential to laying the groundwork for later success in life.” 

Spark Curiosity

Parents care deeply about their children and want to play an active role in their child’s education. Considering that the early years are critical to later success, we have to explore how we can ensure all parents feel supported in providing their children with rich learning experiences. As a parent and educator, it has always been a priority to spark curiosity and foster creative and critical thinking in my children and students. Fortunately, every child is naturally curious! However, curiosity decreases the older they become if they’re not encouraged to continue asking questions or exploring natural phenomena. The problem is that our children are growing up in a world that is continually shifting, and we need to consider the success skills our children require today and in the future. 

Consider the jobs and businesses today that didn’t exist in the past. Companies such as Uber, Netflix, Amazon, and Airbnb have disrupted how we travel, shop, and engage with entertainment. The entrepreneurs who launched these businesses were curious about how they could re-think existing product offerings and embrace innovative, outside-the-box thinking to stand out and be successful. Our world will continue to evolve, primarily due to the advancement of technologies. We need to fan the flame to keep curiosity alive in our children and support them to be adaptable to our ever-changing world by fostering the development of critical thinking and creative problem-solving skills. Science is an excellent avenue to empower learning from a young age and foster divergent thinking.

Tapping into curiosity by empowering children to ask questions about the world around them supports the development of essential success skills. The research study further explains, “When parents support their children’s science exploration, they are helping children develop language, literacy, and critical thinking skills necessary for them to become adults who can reason logically and problem-solve creatively.” While we can create meaningful learning opportunities through science in school,  parents should understand why science exploration at home is critical and encourage families to feel confident in engaging their children in science enhances their growth.

Addressing the Learning at Home Science Gap

According to the study, parents have greater confidence in supporting their children’s skill development in reading and writing, math, and behavioral, social, and emotional needs. Only 54% of parents responded that they felt confident supporting the development of their child’s science skills. Interestingly, 7 out of 10 parents reported that having ideas to engage children in science using everyday materials would help them to facilitate science more often at home.

Family and Teacher Partnerships

Educators can help bridge this gap by empowering parents to take an active role in immersing their children in science exploration through a variety of ways. For starters, many schools host STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) nights which encourage families to explore interconnected science topics together. When families actively engage in learning science alongside their children, they recognize that science is all around us. From talking about solids, liquids, and gases to the life cycle of animals, science doesn’t have to be overly complicated. The goal is to inspire wonder and awe since sparking curiosity leads to children asking questions that foster critical and divergent thinking. 

Additionally, engaging in conversations strengthens communication and language skills in children. Both parents and educators may feel intimidated not knowing the answers to some of our children’s questions. However, I assure you that it’s okay to say, “I’m not sure, let’s think about it or explore more.” Fortunately, with all the advancements in technology, we can use a lap top or smart phone to research answers to complex questions once thinking and exploration have been exhausted – or to confirm our ideas. 

Engage, Interact, and Share

PBS KIDS is my go-to source considering they offer an expansive variety of resources to support both educators and families! With my children and students, we use Design Squad Global to promote creative and critical thinking through engineering, a component of science. When my children were younger, they enjoyed learning science concepts with Sid The Science Kid. PBS KIDS For Parents offers ideas for hands-on activities using materials found around the home, games that foster critical thinking skills and deepen the understanding of science-related skills and topics, apps and videos! Visit PBS LearningMedia for classroom-ready resources that further enhance learning. 

As educators, we can easily share these resources with families through newsletters. However, face-to-face interactions are always more meaningful. In addition to STEAM nights, educators also may invite families in to explore science during the school day to support parents in developing a better understanding of how they can facilitate science learning at home. Sending home follow-up activities and resources that connect to the science exploration in school, help encourage parents to build on their child's learning of science.

Lead by Communicating WHY Science

Most importantly, families need to understand why exploring science alongside their child is critical to their success. Returning to the Ready to Learn-funded research, science exploration helps children to develop more than an understanding of science. It enhances the development of language, literacy, and critical thinking skills that lead to the ability to reason logically and problem-solve creatively. Science also sparks curiosity, and our world needs individuals who ask questions that lead to creative problem-solving, for individuals to take on new challenges and create unique, innovative solutions. Together, educators and families can elevate education by working together to empower learning through science and crafting endless possibilities for learners to imagine, inquire, discover, and create! 

Looking to empower families to feel confident learning science alongside their child? Check out the wide variety of PBS KIDS resources for families and educators:

Resources from THE RUFF RUFFMAN SHOW 

Family Activities

  • Build a Better Birdhouse
  • Ruff Plushie & Game
  • Ruff and Smooth Scavenger Hunt
  • Ruffet Recipe Card 

Games

  • Ruff’s Cookie Creator
  • Fish Force
  • Hamster Run
  • Dress That Rhino
Computer Science (Coding For Children): ScratchJr. Family Activities
Apps
  • Play & Learn Science!
  • Cat in the Hat Builds That!
Digital Content: What’s Good videos
Shows Featuring New Science and Literacy Content

 Explore more resources available on PBS KIDS and PBS LearningMedia

 

Elisabeth Bostwick is proud to drive the “maker movement” at her school and has worked diligently to bring project-based learning and coding opportunities to students. She is an elementary school teacher and the 2017 PBS Digital Innovator from New York.  Follow Elisabeth on Twitter and Instagram, @ElisaBostwick.

 

This study was commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education’s Ready To Learn Initiative, led by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and PBS. It was conducted by EDC and SRI International, long-standing evaluation partners for the Ready To Learn Initiative.

Elisabeth Bostwick

Elisabeth Bostwick Elementary School Teacher

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