The blog last week provided an overview of learning through play with infants and toddlers and the areas as well as experiences we provide here to support their growth and development. As promised, I would like to spend the next few weeks doing a deeper dive in to the theory behind the design of our Young Explorer areas and how best to support our youngest learners in these areas of the Museum. Build It Young Explorers, an area specifically designed for children under the age of 2 years, offers opportunities for even our youngest visitors to interact and experiment with gravity, motion and construction. The neighborhood provides multiple sensory experiences and unique materials (many of which are designed and built by Museum staff).
Pushing and Pulling, Rolling and Spinning—Introducing Scientific Concepts
Similar to the Build It and Make It Move neighborhoods in the Museum, many of the objects found in Build It Young Explorers can be pushed, pulled, rolled, or spun. The objects’ differences in size, shape or texture often create different effects and make children wonder –Why?
Older infants or toddlers often approach Baby Ramps and Rollers after following a ball that has rolled past them or watching a model (such as a parent, caregiver, or older sibling) demonstrate the task involved. Your child might hunt for more round objects to place on the ramp and repeat the experiment to see how they roll down each ramp. What scientific concepts do you think this activity demonstrates?
While young children are not going to understand words like gravity, motion or physics, the use of simple science and math words like up, down, over, under, fast, slow, big and small, heavy and light, will introduce them to these scientific concepts. Additionally, what are some other things you might do to engage your child during this experience?
Here are some ideas:
Enjoy wondering with your child! Ask questions that begin with “Why?” or “How do you think we could?” You may not know the answers, but by sharing your thoughts with your child you model language and problem solving skills.
Try something different. If you notice your child placing several small balls on the ramp to see what will happen next, hand him or her a larger ball and see what happens. Does your child push the ball aside or attempt to place it down the ramp (even if it doesn’t fit)? Another challenge is to hand a third ball to your child while he or she is already holding one in each hand. Does your child drop a ball to pick the new one up or does the child put the other two down first and then return to get the third?
Source: “Starting Children on Science.” Early Years are Learning Years. National Association for Education of Young Children.
Enhancing every area of a child’s development
An infant crawls through the tunnel in Build It Young Explorers and stops to look at his mother, who is seated at the opposite end watching. The mother says, “Are you inside the tunnel?” The child smiles at her and then looks down. It seems as if he is looking at the bumpy mat he needs to cross to get to his mother. “You can do it,” she says to the young boy. He quickly crawls up and over the bumpy mat to getto his mother. As he reaches her knees, she says, “You made it! You went over!”
When asked why she sat at the end of the tunnel and spoke to her son as he navigated his way through, the mother said she did this “just to let him know I was there.” Simple interactions like this can help children understand how to put their ideas into action to accomplish a goal; practice crawling, balance and coordination; and/or build self-confidence. Parents and caregivers that are active participants in their child’s play further nurture the development of not only cognitive skills, but also problem solving, social and emotional, gross motor and language and communication skills as well.
How Learning Comes in to Play—At-Home!
Encouraging, modeling and wondering can happen at home. Here are a few materials you can use to simulate experiences in Build It Young Explorers:
Blocks: Infants and toddlers enjoy building (and of course knocking down) stacks and towers using soft blocks, small wooden blocks, duplos or interlocking blocks. Use simple math and science words like tall or short.
Balls: According to the article, “What is Age-Appropriate Play for Young Children?” from the Illinois Early Learning Project, “Once a baby begins to crawl, toys that can be pushed or rolled and chased across the floor encourage physical activity and interaction with other people.” Experiment using boxes, blocks or paper towel tubes to create ramps of all kinds. Introduce concepts related to motion and gravity by using words like fast, slow, up, down, over, under and through.
Scarves: Infants and toddlers seem almost entranced by an object’s movement. Their eyes follow the objects, often motivating them to try to move, reach and grasp. Scarves move in many ways and are a great sensory tool because often you can see through them, creating a visual and tactile experience. Play peek-a- boo; drop the scarf above your child and ask, “Where is it going to go?” or try playing with
the scarf outside on a windy day.