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Using Weather to Teach Early Science Lessons

“One Mississippi, two Mississippi …”


rainOn the night of a big storm, I was trying to shift my son’s focus from his fear of severe weather to an exercise in counting. Using a trick I had learned as a child, we started measuring the time between seeing the lightning and hearing the thunder. It wasn’t my intent, but in hindsight I realize the storm was his first weather-related science lesson: that sound travels at a slower pace than light.

Though far from a science buff, I’ve used seasonal changes in nature and our weather to convey some simple science lessons. Even if you cannot remember much of what your high school biology teacher taught you, you can help your child understand how science affects their world.

“Simply observing the weather with children is one of the best ways to talk about the science behind it,” says Lisa Colbert, a Columbus, Ohio meteorologist and mother of three young children. “You can nurture a love and fascination with science at a very early age.”

The next time you are outdoors or see weather developing, remember that the most influential science lesson is often the one right in front of you. For science lesson ideas, keep these easy tips in mind:

  • Check out Sid the Science Kid’s weather lessons, including easy home experiments on wind, sunblock’s role in protecting our skin, temperature and rain. All of the experiments are easy for young children to conduct with a parent or caregiver’s help.
  • Begin a weather journal. Have your child record the weather each day (sunny, rainy, snowy, windy, etc.) or use pictures, taken at regular intervals throughout the year. Lisa Niver Rajna, a science teacher from Los Angeles, recommends “taking a photo of what you wear each Monday or the first Monday of (each) month.” Seeing the weather over longer periods of time teaches children the concept of constant change. Rajna notes that differences in outerwear choices are one of the most simple ways to show change. “For example: in September we did not need coats, but in January we wore coats and hats and took an umbrella just in case.”
  • Observe nature outdoors. Children are naturally curious about their surroundings. Colbert has found with her own children that they “respond well to colors and visual, tangible examples of science at work … provided by each of the four seasons. A walk through the leaves on a fall day opens the discussion of why they change color. How about that next snowstorm—is it fluffy and perfect for sledding, or dense and good for making a snowman?” Spring also offers opportunities to note rainfall through a simple rain gauge or in summer, watching plant growth in a garden.
  • Track temperature variations. Otis Kriegel, a 13-year veteran elementary school teacher and a former educator at New York University, explains how to draw science observations out of a simple family exercise. “Have an indoor/outdoor thermometer and have the kids mark the temperature at the beginning of the day and at dinner,” Kriegel explains. He then suggests talking about the observations. “(Ask the children) ‘When is the biggest difference between the a.m. and p.m. temperature? During which season? What was the weather like that day?'” Children can then note how things like seasons, rainy weather or sun affect the change in temperature.
  • Use weather predictions to demonstrate how science helps their community. Knowing that weather can be predicted and planned for can help children understand their environment and weather. Kriegel recounts, “When I taught first grade … we saw that a fierce snowstorm was coming. I showed how weather can somewhat be predicted and how we prepare for different dramatic weather conditions.” Children who are weary of severe weather may feel empowered by understanding the science behind weather and by helping prepare for adverse conditions.
  • Listen to your child’s interests. If your child has a fascination with the weather, allow them to explore their interest through age-appropriate books. Rajna says, “See what interests your children. Share different types of science with your child. Talk about physics and light and taking care of our planet. Help your child become a lifelong learner.” Note any questions your child asks to help gauge their interests and then discover the answers together.
  • Let the changing seasons and weather events serve as a natural reminder that science lessons are occurring all around you. Pick one of the experiments on Sid the Science Kid or use one of the ideas above and help your little one start seeing the many ways science affects their world.

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