Car or bus rides provide some of the best opportunities for engaging your child in conversation about both the natural and man-made world. As you look out the window there is so much to see and wonder about! You and your child can discuss the weather, the moon, rock formations and rivers; and man-made features such as tunnels, roads and buildings. Next time you take a drive, expose your first or second grader to scientific concepts and go far with car science!
Forecasting weather: You’re often able to see wide vistas when you’re riding along, particularly in more rural areas. This provides a good opportunity to talk about weather patterns. As you spy different kinds of cloud formations, make note of them and wonder aloud if some may indicate a change in the weather. For instance, the sun might be shining with a clear blue sky, but off in the distance there is a wall of clouds. Point this out to your child, and ask her “What do you think the weather will be like later? Why do you say that?”
Landforms: Especially when traveling over some distance, there are frequently varieties of landforms such as rivers and mountains. Paying attention to these landforms helps your child think about geology, even if you feel you know very little. Don’t hesitate to encourage your child to describe what he sees. After all, if you’re driving you cannot look carefully yourself, so ask your child to be your eyes. Prompts such as “That mountain is very big. Can you tell me if the trees go all the way to the top?” and “The soil I see has a reddish color. Does all the soil look that way? What other colors do you see?” focus attention on these natural features.
Ice: In much of the country, winter temperatures are low enough to freeze standing fresh water. A particularly interesting sight when riding in these places is what is known as “ice falls,” or water which was flowing at above-freezing temperatures but when frozen appear to be waterfalls frozen in mid-air. These sightings as well as frozen rivers and lakes provide opportunities to begin discussions with your child about what he thinks has happened to make the water look so different now. Your child may or may not know about 32 degrees Fahrenheit as the precise temperature at which water freezes, but these moments can help your child begin to think about the factors that affect matter’s change from one state to another—in this case water’s change from liquid water to solid ice.