Our real little Scientists
During my experience as a Montessori guide, I have always been interested to see how children explore and get involved in mixing materials, working with their hands, and patiently observing the results of their “experiments”. It is beautiful to see how children develop precision with their hands, and how they have fun repeating their “experiments” to finally master them, as they often can be a challenge for, for instance, their motor skills. Experimenting and repeating over and over to see the results is an enjoyable and exciting experience that introduce the children to problem solving and positive self-correction. In this article, I will from my own experiences express how important science activities are in a Montessori environment and how they contribute to the children’s development.
Science activities to develop precision
Dr Maria Montessori mentioned in The Absorbent Mind, that children have an inner interest to develop precision. This interest is based on their need for precision, which is a human tendency that we are born with.
Children's minds develop under the law of acquiring precision, but how is this possible? As adults, we find that this may take a lot of time from the daily bases of our life. Some may find it very hard to increase the level of perfectionism and precision in our jobs, and it could turn into a very disappointing and discouraging habit that could, indeed, lead us to the concept “I do my best”, “there is no better possible way to do this”.
For children in the first plane of development (0 to 6 years old), there is no such a statement. What leads them into exactitude and precision is the joy of manipulating the materials with their hands, figuring out. Maria Montessori believed that all children behave like “little scientists” and that they are eager to observe and make “what if” discoveries about their world. Infants and toddlers test the environment to see what happens when, for example, they drop a toy from their highchair or play with the water in their bath. This drive for discovery continues to develop as they grow and become more adventurous in the things that they try out, from making mud pies in the garden to starting a worm farm in the living room! Children are born with marvellous imagination and a keen desire to explore the world.
The children and their natural connection with water
When working with children, I see their love for water. Water is an essential element in our life. To show the different states of water and creating a real-life experience for the child is just as fascinating as observing them in full concentration of mind exploring from the simplest exercises to the ones that require more patience and less movement, such as experimenting with capillarity.
Just as an example, one element like water, throughout the vivid and real experiences provided by very simple scientist exercises, leads the child to wide, open and multiple ways to link water with what they see in their environment, indoors and outdoors. The condensed water on a glass, the rain, the tap water, the water and its temperature, the water and plants, etc.
This is just an example of how children benefit by concrete exploration and experiences. That is, to learn “by hand”. After such a real encounter, children show the need to further explore, which tells us that the first experience is the one that always will be the most important. And as teachers, we need to provide these self-discovery hands-on opportunities, avoiding to interrupt with explanations and talk during the child’s exploration, to allow the child to find it meaningful.
The importance of a nature table
In our school, our nature table has a varied source of real natural objects. The nature table is respecting a Montessori principle of isolating an object to create the opportunity to observe its qualities and proprieties. Children often discover, or are introduced to, these objects in outdoor activities and thereby appreciate them in their real natural context. Children easily engage themselves in conversations with their teachers by choosing an object from the nature table, observing and discussing it. The real scientist behaviour is shown in this way of observation. Children love to discover small details in everything.
The outdoors, forest school experiences
The outdoors is essential to the children’s development, such as forest school, which boosts the scientific mind. As adults we must be prepared to stop and examine the things that captures the children’s interest — a ladybug or a flower, a tiny flower poking up through the snow, a beautiful shell, a perfect leaf, and so on.
Infants absorb the sights, smells and sounds of the outdoors—clouds passing overhead, the sight and smell of flowers in the garden, the wind rustling the leaves in the trees touching their skin. All these experiences leave a strong and lasting impression. Through exploration the children will make connections with their impressions – with life, as life comes from all living beings in the Universe.
In his article, “Children are Little Scientists: Encouraging Discovery Plan”, Tim Seldin, President of The Montessori Foundation and Chair of The International Montessori Council, wrote:
“(…) children often learn to think of the soil as dirt, a word that implies something nasty to many people. Teach them to respect good, rich soil and all the life that it supports on our planet. Emphasize the need to treat every living thing with care. Teach your child not to pick leaves and flowers aimlessly then toss them aside, but to gather them only for a good purpose. It is OK occasionally to gather wildflowers, then dry or press them or place them in a vase with water to preserve them for as long as possible, but never over-pick any one plant or flower. Teach your child to walk gently upon the Earth, taking only what she needs. Encourage your child to enjoy the forest and meadows, leaving nothing behind. Teach her never to litter. If you see trash on the ground, pick it up and carry it with you until it can be thrown away”.
What can we do to inspire our children and value their inner interest in science? Here are some ideas:
1. Value your child’s questions.
“Mommy/Daddy, why is the moon following us?” With this question and many others, a child lets us know his curiosity about how the world works. We can respond in ways that encourage scientific thinking. Enjoy discussing the questions your child asks. Use this opportunity to share perspectives and observations. Explore and find the answers together.
2. Give children time and space to explore.
Children learn science through trial and error. They need time to experiment, try things out, and think on their own. Wait before jumping in with "correct" answers. Give your child the time and space to explore and discover, think and understand, on his or her own.
3. Accept that explorations are often messy.
Whether it’s an outdoor exploration with mud and sticks or indoors with water, children are likely to get dirty when they explore materials. Dress your children in clothing that allows them to get messy and tell them it’s ok!
4. Learn from mistakes together.
If an experiment goes wrong, take advantage of the situation and further investigate with your child to see what went wrong. A mistake can lead to all kinds of possibilities, and it provides opportunities for you and your child to refine your ideas, understanding and hypotheses.
5. Invite curiosity.
Learning about science begins with curiosity. Observations and questions can create a climate of discovery – key to scientific learning. Children can learn a lot about science even at bath time. Let your child ask questions and encourage curiosity. For instance, when seeing a rubber duck float in the water, invite him or her to think by saying, “I wonder if the soap will also float?" See what questions s/he asks and what experiments s/he tries.
6. Support further exploration.
Intentional adult interactions with children can extend their learning. When the moment is right – maybe when s/he’s done exploring on his or her own, suggest extending it. Guide your child by asking questions like, “I wonder what might happen if we try this?”. Share some things you find while exploring, for example, a beautiful striped rock. This lets your child know there is always something worthy of investigating.
7. Encourage children to record their observations.
Writing, drawing, or taking photographs are examples of different ways to record observations - an important scientific skill. Such records allow children to keep track of what they saw, heard, questioned, or discovered. When you notice that your child is interested in something (like the moon, leaves changing colours on the trees, or the growth of a plant) you can suggest ways for them to record what they have observed. “Would you like to draw that?” or “Would you like to take some photos?” or “Do you want me to help you write down what you noticed?”
8. Use items you have at home to experiment and explore
Listening carefully to the child´s interest can help us find the best elements and the appropriate moment to discover our environment from the child´s scientific perspective. Many items can be found at home, such as baking soda, vinegar, food colouring, magnets, soap, milk, etc.
When it comes to demonstrating the use of these items in science exploration, please remember this: think about each step before showing it to your child and consider how you can make each step simple to follow. Explain each step with just a few words as you present it, so your child concentrates on what you are doing rather than what you are saying. Then let your child practice until s/he is competent at each stage.
Additionally, introducing your child to science activities at home also encourages your child to everyday life skills such as keeping things tidy. In their crucial sensitive period for order, their world needs to be well organised. If they are shown where things belong, and how to return them correctly when they are finished using them, they internalise this sense of order and carry it with them for the rest of their lives.
To summarize, our little scientists are the real scientists, they are accomplishing goals according to the inner need to discover; therefore, throughout the science activities and presentations they are satisfying not only their curiosity, but also their need:
· for perfection: repeating the same exercise several times and observing how the results progress.
· for precision: manipulating small tools refining their fine motor skills.
· to focus and concentrate: by practising patience to wait, as some experiments are based on different time frames.
· for their emotional development: to experience and build an understanding of the importance of the connection between us and nature, and how our intervention can impact the natural elements.
I would like to end my blog with a quote by Maria Montessori where she beautifully sums up the importance of children and nature:
“Let the children be free; encourage them; let them run outside when it is raining; let them remove their shoes when they find a puddle of water; and, when the grass of the meadows is damp with dew, let them run on it and trample it with their bare feet; let them rest peacefully when a tree invites them to sleep beneath its shade; let them shout and laugh when the sun wakes them in the morning as it wakes every living creature that divides its day between waking and sleeping”.
Big gem Leonardo, is one of Little Gems new staff members in our Larnaca setting. Leonardo has joined us from Spain, but comes from Argentina. Not only has Leonardo got a keen interest in science but also in art as he also is an artist. Please contact us should you want to learn more about Montessori & Science on: firstname.lastname@example.org