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Exploring Change through Scientific Processes

With just a few ingredients, simple experiments can be conducted with young children that assist in exploring the learning of abstract processes that create temporary and permanent changes.

Written by: Joanne Harris Educational Advisor  

With access to even the simplest of resources, children can participate through play and interaction with activities that explore aspects of change that occur through scientific processes. It is these experiences that can help children begin to develop a greater awareness of the role change will play in their lives.

Throughout the process of natural curiosity, learning occurs whilst children embody processes such as trial and error as they form questions and answers independently within their own thoughts or shared with others.

When selecting resources, thought must be given to how educators imagine the ways children will play and what they will learn. The more specific the intent, the greater the likelihood that there will be a positive outcome.  Using three distinct forms that can exist as matter including solid, liquid, and gas as examples, there are many ways to research each one which provides a basis for the overall concepts of how the world works.


Combining Interests to Explore Scientific Concepts

Many young children seem drawn to animals both living and extinct, and rarely seem to question that life existed in other times well before humans began to roam the Earth. This seems to be an ideal starting point for selecting meaningful experiences that are relevant to children.

Focusing on the study of different habitats, educators might choose to explore the Ice Age by freezing small dinosaur figures and observing the outcome of what happens when they melt. Ideal for children who enjoy the sensory experience of water play, this can lead to a discussion that focuses on the molecules that make up droplets of water and how they can change from one state to another.

The Wilderness Play Set can easily be added to a table or laid out on the floor. It includes a wooden volcano, mountains, a cave, trees, and dinosaurs. To extend the play, educators could conduct a simple experiment using staple ingredients including vinegar, food colouring and Bicarb of Soda to simulate the active process of a volcano erupting. Long after this, the children may apply their new learning in the small world space.


Demonstrating How to Understand the Abstract through Exploring Physical Change

With just a few ingredients, there are several simple experiments that can be conducted with young children that assist in exploring the learning of abstract processes that create temporary and permanent changes. Beginning with water, children can observe the change from wet to dry, solid to liquid, or liquid to solid with little intervention. Washing baby dolls in water is a regular activity that is offered and garners much attention. However, adding food colour is another opportunity to share a process of change as children understand how it diffuses and alters the colour, and has the potential to influence the kind of play children engage in.

Adding Lux Flakes and Food dye to warm water and whisking it with an electric beater is an opportunity to witness a chemical change that blends ingredients. The change in form from solid to liquid invites children to explore a difference in texture and composition. Offering a range of kitchen-inspired utensils such as pots and pans, children can reenact cooking recipes.


The Link Between Conservation and Logical Thinking Ability

Water-based experiments offer simple ways to study the molecules that make up liquids in detail and how they ‘behave’. Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget is famous for studying children’s reasoning and thinking skills. He concluded that children could agree that two identically sized containers of liquid held the same amount but could not distinguish the difference when an equal amount of liquid was stored in two different sizes of container.

Basing his testing on elements of early childhood cognitive development, he determined certain patterns of thinking at different stages and that understanding changes through life experience. Educators could perform this very basic experiment by including various-sized containers in water play activities, and test Piaget’s theories.

Items including bottles, sieves/colanders, pipes, tubes, buckets, watering cans, and water wheels in both indoor and outdoor play children can research how water behaves depending upon the receptacle it is explored with. In short, being able to conserve means knowing that a quantity doesn't change if it's been altered (by being stretched, cut, elongated, spread out, shrunk, poured, etc.).



Exploring Weather Patterns through Water Play

Children are curious about the weather and are often eager to learn about the process of rain. An educator may introduce the cycle by completing a puzzle which provides a visual image of what happens as the sequence is followed to create rainfall.

As with the exploration that occurred during water play investigation there are simple experiments that can be led by an educator that demonstrate the conditions that need to be present for the rain to fall, which afterward could be explored through intentional and spontaneous activities.

Everyday items such as jars, food dye, and a cake tin, along with ice cubes can be used to simulate the rain cycle that shows the journey of condensation and evaporation. 

During informal learning, it may be the discovery of resources left outside overnight or during a rainstorm that encourages discussion of the scientific processes that have occurred that children may want to discover more information about.

Much like the way nature works, it is the combinations of elements put together that create both questions and answers for children as they learn. By limiting words and emphasising actions, children can become more invested in the outcome of their learning.

Science, scientific projects, and discovery can become less the result of occasional activities and feature more regularly in the program as an authentic way to learn and measure understanding, whether led by an educator or by children.

Documenting the process from its origins and sharing the learning is an important way to invite questions and highlight how the need for transparency sustains engagement and participation.

For more information and ideas about ways to encourage scientific exploration to discover the role of change please visit our Educator Resources page.


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