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Let's start early: promoting Maths, Science & Technology from birth

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Part of me is rather astounded that it has to be asked:  “How do we get our very young learners interested in science, maths and technology?”But let's get real, interest and creativity around finding answers can be stunted, stopped and frowned upon.  It is actually possible to 'kill' the natural curiosity of a baby by scolding and preventing them from finding out about science, maths and technology.  So the answer is not so much how do we get them interested, but rather how should we prevent young learners' natural curiosity from dying?  What should we NOT DO to keep them interested?

We prevent babies from exploring their environment.  Since we want to encourage their health we tend to sterilize their environment and remove all things that could contain germs.  We do not let them chew on our keys and we do not let them put toys in their mouths.  This is so sad, since the first tool the baby uses to explore science, maths and technology is the mouth.  Learners younger than three will always opt to use the mouth as a research tool.  They taste the object, run their tongue against it, become aware of the texture and they compare these findings with whatever goes into their mouths next.  Do not get me wrong, I do not advocate that we throw caution to the wind and not sterilize the items the baby younger than three months comes into contact with… far from it.  But I do think we have over compensated to a large extent and we deprive our young learners from the pleasure and research value of items they could safely mouth.  

So what we should do is provide enough SAFE objects with a variety of textures that can be mouthed and that the young learner can learn from. Get scraps of fabric from the company that upholsters lounge suits and create a “book with upholstery type fabric” that your young one can touch and mouth to find out about different textures of fabric.  Either throw the “book” away after good use or wash it and re-use.  It is your choice how you do it, but please, just get round to allowing your learner to experience textures.  By providing the book you prevent baby dribbling and tasting your new lounge suite. 

Another way we prevent our young learners to explore their environment is to place them in their restrictive seats for long periods of time.  As far as I am concerned that is a BIG NO-NO for babies.  Allow baby time on his/ her back or tummy to practice moving the arms and legs.  By moving their limbs they gain information about things like gravity, speed, momentum and their own size long before you learn about those concepts in science class.  Allow babies to roll over, reach for objects, find out that you cannot touch what you cannot reach and you have taken the first step towards ensuring that baby will try and solve this problem.  He/she will find a way to wriggle, thrust and roll until they can reach that object.  Think of the great inventor Thomas Edison: "The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time".

Movement is essential play for babies, toddlers and young learners.  Whenever there is a need to restrict their movement – like when travelling in a vehicle / airplane - ensure you allow ample time for movement breaks before and after this restrictive period.  It is as if the young bodies NEED movement like adults need oxygen and starving them will create panic in the learner.

“Look, do not touch” is as far as I am concerned also non-productive when it comes to young learners.  They literally CANNOT only look.  It is like giving them the image out of focus.  They  NEED to touch to make the experience meaningful.  If you continue reprimanding them for touching you are killing their investigative nature and in the process you are killing the “natural scientist, mathematician and technology expert” that wants to emerge from each learner.  

Rather create opportunities where it is SAFE to find out more by looking and feeling. I have listed 3 bullet proof activities below: 

  • Use sand and water play on a daily basis.  Fill the Fibreglass Trough with an interesting variety of objects every week and allow the learners to freely FEEL, TASTE, SMELL and MOVE while playing with this.  No instructions needed.  Just open it up as free play and see how they find out for themselves that some items will float, some will dissolve, some will colour the water and others will make bubbles.  What I like to do, is to ask them when returning to class, to tell me about their experiences or draw a picture about it.  I do this for a good reason – all scientists have to document their findings. 
  • During Physical Education use textured beanbags for throwing and catching. It seems to awaken the neural connections in the brain when the object you are catching/ throwing has an additional attribute to it.  Perhaps the brain's analyzing of the texture will influence the weight, or maybe it is just that by involving more senses we are creating more neural pathways.
  • Walk on different surfaces. Let the soles of the feet experience the joy of feeling. The feet feels, the brain interprets and because of the multi-sensory experience the learner can sort, classify and make sense of what is felt underfoot.  If the learner can sort and classify by feeling, how much more able would he/ she not be when it comes to classifying in science, maths and technology?  I totally rest my case when we speak about allowing learners to walk barefoot.  We are killing the experience of analyzing what is underfoot when we do not allow them to go barefoot.  What were we thinking?  Did we not realize we were killing creativity?

Keep an eye out for my next blog on the need to physically move your learners (through space) and much more.


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