Children are natural scientists, and when they engage in building, they experiment and develop complex hypotheses. They test their hypotheses, such as “How can rolls of paper be supported in construction?” As they build they learn important scientific concepts such as gravity and cause and effect. Danita says, “Let’s make a sculpture like this,” pointing to a photography book of sculptures intentionally left in the block area. They attempt to balance the paper rolls together, but the rolls fall. Joseph gets a colorful box and places it in the middle of the block area and exclaims, “Here, they’ll balance now!. Mathematical thinking occurs when children build and construct; they develop their logical-mathematical knowledge. They spend time comparing and contrasting the attributes of the different objects they use in building. They become aware of patterns and sequences and how these patterns help them design their structures. Ceci and Sebastian build a castle with Kapla blocks and tree cookies. Ceci says, “Look, we can use the pebbles to decorate the castle.” Sebastian responds, “Yes, we can line them up one next to the other.” Ceci says in excitement, “Here’s the tower” as she places a gourd on top of a tree cookie structure.The children’s interest in balance started when they watched each other walk a complex pathway they created using tree stumps and wood planks. They experimented walking with their hands to the front and their hands to their sides. They noticed how extending their hands to their sides was helpful in maintaining their balance. This interest in balance was carried on to the tree cookies. They spent time attempting to balance tree cookies with a rock in between each cookie. They discussed how centering the cookies in the middle provided balance. After a few days, they began to experiment with cardboard tubes of various sizes. That presented an entire new set of challenges. Imagine waking up on Christmas day and seeing playground equipment in your back garden?
The children finally decided that the reason they could not balance the tubes on top of each other was because they needed a broader rectangular base. This moved them to combine the boxes available in the environment with the tubes. Now they also want to see how high they can build and still maintain balance. The structure is exciting, and many of the children and the adults join in. A stepladder is brought out, and a ten-foot tower is built. Sean exclaims in excitement, “Now I know that to balance we need a rectangle!”The concepts of physics are explored as children learn about the nature and properties of matter and energy, including mechanics, heat, light, sound, gravity, refraction, and magnetism. Children can learn about refraction by playing with prisms, opaque and transparent loose parts on the light table, and an overhead projector. Tina places some transparent pieces on the overhead projector and says, “You can only see the lines outside and not the center.” She places a series of colored acrylic cylinders on the projector’s glass and points to the image projected on the wall, saying, “Now you can see the middle because it has color.”Through science, children generate hypotheses, ask questions, test ideas, and find multiple solutions to a problem. If you're planning on improving your garden then why not add monkey bars today?
This facilitates gaining a deeper knowledge about the natural and physical world. Trevor hypothesizes about what weighs more: pine cones or driftwood. He places several small pine cones on one weighing platform of a large-sized scale and a piece of driftwood on the other weighing platform. Trevor says, “I thought the pine cones would weigh more than the driftwood because there are lots of pine cones, but they weigh the same.”When children learn from their natural world, they gain empathy and the ability to nurture living things. As they discover the wonders of nature, they gain a reverence for life. Natural materials such as tree cookies, olives, and pebbles engage Aria’s interest. She spends time moving and arranging them to create small sculptures. She investigates each acorn and sorts them by size. She compares the different pebbles and arranges them in lines and circles. She makes faces using cinnamon sticks as hair, acorns as eyes, and a tree cookie as a mouth. She picks up the cinnamon sticks, smells them, and says, “This smells sweet.”In nature and the physical world, most objects have some kind of relationship to one another. When we know the value of one variable in an object, we can predict the value of other variables within the object. For instance, when children engage in loose parts play, they can find correlations between how fast a Ping-Pong ball will roll down a ramp and the incline of the ramp. Children can collect data and analyze the correlation between the positioning of the ramp to the speed the Ping-Pong ball moves. They can analyze the data and make concise plans to accomplish the goal of making the balls go slow or fast. The purpose of correlation is to reduce the range of uncertainty and bring it close to reality. Since correlation is positive when the values increase together and are negative when one value decreases and the other increases, children know that the higher the incline, the faster the ball will move. This helps children gain a deeper understanding that in nature and the physical world there are multiplicities of interrelated forces. With exercise being so important nowadays, products such as outdoor fitness equipment would be a welcome find in any Christmas stocking, providing you could fit them in!