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Science Kids on the Loose

Science Kids on the Loose

A Lesson About Underestimating My Preschoolers

When I first read through the Estimation Exploration on the Sid website, I was a bit confused. How could they expect preschoolers to understand such an abstract concept like estimation? I even thought about talking to Kim Brenneman, an educational consultant on Sid and my blogging partner here online. I thought that maybe they intended this activity for older kids. Henry and Leo certainly couldn’t be expected to grasp estimation, right?
Boy, did I ever underestimate my boys.
First Leo watched the episode called Enough with the Seashells! where Sid estimates the amount of shells in a jar. Leo watched the show and went on to do other things. Later in the car, I listened as Leo began to tell Henry about estimation.
Leo: Henry, did you know that you can look at a pile of stuff and guess how many there are?
Henry: What kind of stuff?
Leo: You know, seashells, rocks, M&Ms.
Henry: Cool.
Okay, it’s not rocket science, but it was clear to me that Leo learned something from the show. So, I decided to give the activity a try. I had Henry watch the episode too, and Leo watched for a second time. I watched too and I noticed the usage of important terms such as more than, less than, and fewer during the episode. I have to admit that I had no idea there was such a thing as an “estimation jar” as a science tool.
The boys have a basket of pretty stones and a small jar that we use as a reward counter. The boys do great things like making a bed, sharing with each other, or cleaning up toys and we give them a stone or two for the jar. When the jar is filled, they boys get a reward such as a movie outing or a trip to a toy store. It works (when we remember to do it). The stones and the jar were perfect for this activity.
I asked Henry to count out 10 stones and put them into a pile. Then I counted 22 stones and put them in the jar. I kept the visual pile close by and asked the boys to estimate how many were in the jar. More than 10? Less than 10? Leo immediately went for an outlandish answer: 109. Henry however, took his time and guessed 12. Granted, 12 isn’t close to 22, but it is in the ballpark and made for a good guess.
Then, it was time to count. I was pleased to listen as Henry counted out all the stones. I showed him how to place the stones in groups of 10 to help with his counting. Henry understood that his estimation was off, but that he recognized more than 10.
Leo just likes to count. It was so cute to watch him meticulously count the stones and put them in a line. He counted out of order in the teens, but I gently put him back on track. We played the estimation game a few more times and by the end, Leo was making reasonable estimations. Henry even got the number right on the last time through.
I very rarely play any kind of math or counting games with the kids. This estimation activity brought math and science together in a really fun and engaging way. Henry and Leo clearly understand that you don’t have to count out every single number in a pile (although they like to sometimes) and that an estimation can tell them “about how much” is there. I clearly understand that I need to build more math into our play and stop underestimating what my preschoolers can do. This was a nice, gentle reminder. I’ll let Kim and the team at Sid keep doing what they do best, without any complaints from this mom!
What kinds of everyday objects could you use to conduct the Estimation Exploration with your kids? Have you ever underestimated what your preschooler can accomplish?

Produced by: Funding is provided by:
Jim Hensen Corporation logo CPB ViNCi MetLife The Rosehills Foundation S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation logo The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations logo

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