As a member of the Early Childhood Science Interest forum (ECSIF) I've been lucky enough to participate in the monthly virtual meetings that we started to stay connected, knowing that we wouldn't see each other in person for awhile. And, wow, when early childhood educators get together to talk, either in person OR virtually, the thoughts start flying! Many of our conversations center on how teachers and families can actively engage young children in foundational science and STEM experiences and tap into and promote their interests through exploration and conversation. In our November meeting, a vibrant discussion emerged about integrated science play, including the types of adult/child interactions that turn these playful moments into vital learning experiences. The discussion continued by email for days after the meeting and I'd like to share a bit of it and invite you all to join in!
It all started when Sarah, a teacher in a nature-based PreK classroom was passionately describing her observations of children's outdoor play and how excited she was to see children's growing self-confidence in their own bodies and physical abilities as well as their increasing abilities to collaborate, communicate, and show empathy for one another. Then Shelly jumped in and started talking about how outdoor exploratory play supports children's executive functioning skills, especially working memory, cognitive flexibility, and inhibitory control. I'm still thinking about that conversation-- and it's making me take a second look at a two minute home video I made last weekend of my grandson playing with marbles and ramps. How does his exploratory science play connect to and support executive function skills? And how can adults best support these skills in a playful context? And how can they do so while still maintaining the playful/child-centered nature of the experience? What do you all think?
I think we can all agree that Cindy definitely needs to keep the home clips coming! They are both enjoyable and heartwarming to watch! You are right on in terms of your grandson's active engagement with EFs. Your grandson actively engaged his working memory when he thought out-loud and recalled a previous ramp structure and cognitive flexibility when he shifted perspectives from one structure design to another. Inhibitory control has 2 levels - attention/focus and behavior/action. We see him actively attending to the ramp design and changing it, informed by his working memory and prior knowledge while using his selective attention to consider the observations and questions offered by grandma and grandpa.
I also recommend The Power of Play – a Research Summary on Play and Learning by Dr. Rachel White at the Minnesota Children's Museum. I see that you cited it in your thought-provoking blog about science and play that can be downloaded here: 4 Research-based reasons students should learn science through play Your blog effectively outlines four compelling arguments for teaching science through play! The Power of Play is a great synopsis of the developmental benefits of play across the domains and how play promotes EFs specifically! The citations related to cognitive and gross motor connections are ones I have used in my own teaching and writing. This is a great overview that I will also use in my course with EC undergraduate and graduate students.
Thanks! Shelly, I loved writing that blog piece and doing so really pushed my own thinking about the complex relationship between science and play-- a topic i was also lucky enough to explore while developing a remote workshop on play and science with play masters Walter Drew, and Carly Bedard, and our ECSIF colleague Peggy Ashbrook :)I also want to second your recommendation of the Power of Play piece and join with you in suggesting it to teachers and families alike.
Something I'm wondering about now is how we can use science/play to support "intergenerational learning"....that phrase is fairly new to the EC world. My understanding is that it describes situations where the adult and child BOTH bring knowledge and skills to share and BOTH take away new learning- including new learning about each other. How can we use science/play to leverage intergenerational learning? AND how can we help adults (and i'm thinking especially about parents here) to feel empowered about supporting science learning, especially when they don't feel confident or knowledgeable about science themselves?
I really like the notions of intergenerational teaching and learning! Just as the teaching-learning process is mutual and reciprocal, as all teachers reflect on how much they learn from children and in turn, hope that children learn as much from them, the same is certainly true between parents and children. Would many/if not most, parents agree that they are far better, more empathetic human beings because of the many lessons they have learned from their children as parents? I would only add that it is ALSO intergenerational learning and teaching! I remember the one year I taught ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) with K-5 students in Orlando many moons ago. My students' parents told me that their children were teaching/helping them to learn English at home.
Back in 2017, colleagues and I proposed "training on wheels" workshops for parents, grandparents, and teachers that were intergenerational because we definitely felt strongly about the intergenerational approach. We have subsequently done multiple parent workshops designed to help parents recognize and capitalize on their funds of knowledge.
Play and Science, and play in science--so important for children to have this kind of play, accumulating experiences that will inform their later even more sophisticated scientific thinking.Thank you Shelly and Cindy for writing so much so I don't feel like I missed the ECSIF meeting entirely! This is the kind of discussion that makes the NAEYC Hello forum so useful to early childhood educators across the board.
A comment about parents (and not all parents, of course):
When I shared ramps and balls and other objects for exploring building and using inclined planes at an elementary science fair as a family activity I had to pass out "tickets" to the adults that allowed them to play too-alongside or separately from their children-provided they agreed not "fix" or "improve" their child's ramp structures or "show them how to really do it." The open-ended activity challenged parents' inhibitory control as they struggled to not interfere but build alongside, to let their children build ramps that failed to do what the children wanted--and re-design them over and over.Adults need time to play too!
Shelly, you are making my head spin!
And Peggy I'm so glad you've jumped into the discussion! We missed you at the meeting!<o:p></o:p>
The tickets thing is a great idea!
I am really "playing in the grey" as I think about this-- how parents can co-construct with kids and feel empowered that they are in fact supporting/contributing to their kids' learning without taking over the play and exploration….We also know from the research that more science- "advantaged" kids (kids who have access to science adults/resources/materials/informal experiences) are more likely to stay interested in/feel more confident about their own science capacities and to pursue science opportunities…..so what is it that adults are doing in those families that has an influence?
Observing my grandson and his granddad up-close has been really interesting- and yes, there are sometimes when I bite my tongue because grandpa gets more instructive than I might be…on the other hand, these play sessions go on sometimes for 2 or more hours…….. and believe me when I say my grandson would not stay engaged for any lectures or withstand anyone taking over his play! <o:p></o:p>
The point that Cindy has made with regard to learners' sustained interest and confidence as science learners across the grades is important. While ongoing access to science adults, resources, materials, and informal experiences are beneficial if not crucial, perhaps the sheer quality of engagement that takes place, including when to ask questions and make comments based on observations without interrupting the child's agenda during science opportunities may be most important. I can also see how a ticket system like the one used by Peggy would be a particularly helpful reminder to parents of the need to follow their children's lead without providing answers or solutions to the problems that their children encounter. Ensuring that children have the opportunity to figure things out, answer questions, and find solutions for themselves are critical to their own science learning and development.
Have you conducted any workshops or learning experiences with parents and children together as well, Cindy? I agree that parents have a tendency to underestimate how much they know and the ways they can/do support their children's learning. Figuring out how to best leverage the power dynamics between parents and children is on point.
Hey Shelly, thanks for asking!! I also want to make sure you see Melissa's post as she shares some interesting work with families and has some great insights!!In my own work through the years I've had a bunch of transformative experiences with parent/kid play interactions (mostly in science), here are three:
In all of these experiences I observed parents' strong desire to support their child's learning. I also noticed that parents were much more likely to get actively involved when there was a compelling reason for them to do so, either because parent support was required ……OR because they themselves were curious about the topic, the exploration, or activity.
What a practical and useful framework that Beth has developed based on Brian Cambourne's work to help adults (parents, caregivers, and educators) mindfully and intentionally think about, design, prepare, and implement STEM learning experiences with young children at home and school! Surrounding young children with open-ended materials that "invite" them to explore and investigate science content and concepts leads me to wonder how much that invitation is in some measure, due to the extent that it appeals to children's "curiosity," which plays a key role (as noted specifically by Melissa and Doris in their responses) and how important this role is to parents/grandparents and children during intergenerational learning experiences?I especially appreciate the notions of risk-free environment (Engagement); giving children choices (Responsibility); accepting children's mistakes (Approximation); encouraging children to play with you (Use); and listening to children, welcoming questions and comments (Response). Altogether, they speak to the need for democratic learning communities in which all participants are granted full membership, with voice and agency to actively declare and act on their ideas, questions, wants, and needs while promoting decision-making and problem-solving skills. Within intergenerational learning experiences, these conditions MUST be extended to children and parents/grandparents alike. Educators creating intergenerational learning opportunities need to know and understand the families and communities they serve, ensuring that how they approach and use early STEM experiences, materials, and activities are culturally responsive and sensitive to individual families and communities.Going back to Cindy's earlier response in which she described amazing experiences working with mothers at a shelter, the moms' active participation in the multi-cultural paper doll activity was not only culturally responsive, it clearly tapped into their funds of knowledge that was meaningful, purposeful, and relevant to them/their lives! Just as starting the teaching-learning process with children begins with tapping into their prior knowledge and experience, interest and curiosity, Cindy provided rich evidence suggesting that intergenerational play between parents/children and grandparents/grandchildren would logically benefit from beginning with the adult's funds of knowledge, interests, and curiosities as well, using open-ended materials that appeal to/invite active engagement by both generationsMelissa also recognized how "asking questions and engaging play" is needed to increase STEM access to all children, families, and communities. Ellen further reminds us that we need to help parents/grandparents develop and use their observation skills to effectively guide and facilitate children's problem-solving that follows the child's lead. Helping parents and caregivers understand that young children are science learners from the time they are born and begin making sense of their world is important. This recognition can help set the stage for adults and young children to become co-learners and co-investigators together, with opportunities to learn new concepts and skills as a joint effort, thereby increasing/expanding both the adult and child's expertise. Understanding the teaching-learning process as a co-journey can further help to alleviate some of the fear and intimidation that adults may otherwise feel, enabling them to see themselves as science learners as well, leading to empowerment for BOTH children and adult learners.Beth has also started a great list of open-ended materials/experiences that children and adults can explore and investigate at home and in school. I would also add cooking, physics of sound, and kites and paper airplanes as providing opportunities for open-ended exploration/play with important cultural aspects and considerations. These kinds of play experiences and STEM investigations also provide powerful contexts and spaces for young children and adults to actively exercise their executive functions! While the growing research indicates that EFs are developing at a fast rate during the first six years, we can continue to develop them throughout the life span! Using this framework to help guide and inform open-ended experiences can simultaneously promote adults and children actively engaging EFs, further illustrating/demonstrating the benefits of intergenerational play for BOTH children and adults - teachers and parents/grandparents alike!Shelly