Two-years-olds may be too young to remember the seasonal changes that happened in the last year but they are not too young to understand and talk about the natural changes that happen on a shorter time scale—the cycle of day and night. Looking for the Moon can be a nighttime or daytime activity. Older children remember events that occur seasonally—leaves dropping from deciduous trees or the occasionally heavy snow that closed school and made new play opportunities in their familiar landscape. All ages are affected by regional changes such as annual flooding, summertime dry spells, and changes in animal behavior. Hunting seasons are tied to annual animal lifecycles.
Migration of animals such as toads and bears are the focus of community efforts to make residents aware of the seasonal changes in animal activity. In some regions, all are fascinated and sometimes freaked out by the appearance of a large number of cicadas, an insect that has a life cycle that for some species takes more than a decade. Regional experts, such as naturalist Alonso Abugattas, can help us make sense of changes we don’t understand.
Those occasional events are memorable. Observation and documentation are strategies that help children (and scientists) make sense of the everyday and occasional changes in their environment (NGSS practices). Children can make simple documentation of the daily weather and relate it to the seasonal cycles that affect living organisms. If your children are recording the daily temperature in relative or standard measurement, they can look back and see how many days with “hot” temperatures occurred before their pea seeds sprouted, cicadas emerged, or the swimming pools opened.
Children who are not yet reading numerals or able to count the small marks on a thermometer can read the colors on a thermometer with color-coded groups of 10-20 degrees of temperature. They can hold a cloud chart against the sky to match cloud types or collect and measure precipitation. A class’ daily “weather report” of sunny/cloudy/rainy/windy/snowy becomes much more meaningful when their sky cover and temperature data from the year is displayed so children can see patterns and relate changes in weather to changes in the life cycles of the plants and animals in their neighborhood. Early childhood educators are discussing weather education in the NSTA Learning Center Early Childhood Forum, one place to learn how to extend children’s understanding of the relationship between daily weather and seasons, and how those changes affect living organisms.