Guest blogger Monica Dolan is the STEM Curriculum Coordinator at The Children’s Center at CalTech where she works as a liaison between the administration and the teaching staff to ensure curriculum plans are consistent with the center’s conceptual STEM based approach. This early childhood program sponsors an annual Early Childhood STEM conference, ECSTEM. Monica also works closely with the teachers documenting children’s work and reviewing data to suggest possibilities of direction, and maintains and runs the outdoor STEM lab. Monica has a Master’s Degree from Pacific Oaks College and has worked as a teacher in early childhood for fifteen years, currently also working with local colleges presenting workshops on implementing STEM activities and environments within a classroom and teaching a course on STEAM. Welcome Monica!
At The Children’s Center at Caltech we have an outdoor science lab for the children, located in the heart of our preschool yard. When the lab was being built we were clear with the architects that we did not want locks on the drawers and cabinets so the children could access materials as needed.
One of the most popular spaces in the lab is the Microscope Viewing Station. At this space the drawers are filled with bug viewers, magnifying glasses, tweezers and small lab gloves. The children access these materials daily and run onto the yard to collect bugs, flowers, leaves, dirt, sticks and anything else they find particularly interesting that morning. It is not unusual that children will fill a bug viewer with Pill Bugs (a.k.a. isopods, or roll-polies) and observe how they move throughout the morning. When it was time to go inside, these bug viewers, and their contents of live Pill Bugs, would be placed into the drawers, shut and left there, ultimately to die!
The staff found it very important to discuss with the children how to respect living things. We spoke with the children about finding insects and other small animals, and observing the habitats in which they were found. We spoke about returning living things to their natural habitats so they don’t die. We also looked closely at these spaces in nature so that we could create artificial habitats within our classrooms providing the opportunity to study living creatures for longer periods of time. We included food, water and vegetation to support the ecosystems.
The more opportunities we provide to learn about nature, the more children take care of it. Humans share a symbiotic relationship with nature. Through working together the children have learned to create balance.