Bringing Science Home
By Sarah Shaffer
Parents often slip my staff little notes when dropping their kids off for the first day of summer science camp. One of my all-time favorites simply states, "Please carefully search Jack's pockets before returning him to me." Was her son a kleptomaniac? Nope. Just another kid determined to bring science home. One too many banana slugs can wreck havoc with a washing machine — to say nothing of what it does to the poor mollusk.
The natural world is filled with wonders. The beauty of running outdoor summer camps is that although we cannot let the kids load their pockets with exotic materials, they always leave with their brains stimulated by the kinds of experiences that just don't happen in indoor spaces. Children who have grown up walking on city sidewalks have to learn new ways of navigating when first exposed to the unpredictable terrain found in nature.
Children who have been exposed only to toys manufactured with a single intended use blossom when they discover found objects of varying sizes and shapes such as downed tree limbs, rocks, and fallen leaves. The myriad ways these materials can be combined is limited only by a child's imagination, and —given free rein—that is pretty much limitless. Even developing vision is positively impacted by exposure to natural light.
But the best news of all is that what we think of as play is, in fact, so much more. Alison Gopnik, a psychologist at the University of California at Berkley has spent ten years observing the ways in which children learn. When toddlers are shown how to use one function of a toy with multiple possibilities, they stick to what they've been taught. But when a researcher "accidently" bumps into the object activating a single feature and then walking away, the kids quickly move in and do a bit of exploring on their own. Before long, they've discovered everything that toy can do. Children naturally behave like scientists. Fostering this kind of creative play is what the summer camp experience is all about.
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Sarah Shaffer, award-winning educator, has been offering unique science and nature programs for children, parents, and teachers for over twenty years. She takes children outdoors all summer at This Land is Your Land Summer Day Camp. More information about Sarah's Science can be found at www.sarahscience.com.