Monthly Archives: August 2016

Earth Science Strategies, #1: Using Models

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Picking the Right Earth Science Strategies for the Very Young

Have you ever tried to teach about something vast, to little children who think their dad is huge? Or have you ever tried to explain why we have seasons, or night and day, to a five-year old?

Often, our classroom resources don’t help us. They are often written by science experts who work with older students. So, the earth science strategies and materials we are given in these lessons are ones meant for big kids. Furthermore, it seems that they simply water down the concepts, or take away the “hard” ideas, for preschool and kindergarten …  And what we have left isn’t what we know our kids can learn!

Beyond Rocks and Minerals: Big Ideas for Small People

What SHOULD little ones know about the Earth’s surface?

By the end of kindergarten, children should understand the following big earth science ideas:

  • Systems in the natural world have parts that work together;
  • Models are used to represent relationships in the natural world.

In this post, you will learn two earth science strategies that can help you teach these big earth science ideas, to even the littlest Einstein:

  1. Using models of the Earth and its features;
  2. Working with hands-on materials to explore the structure of the Earth.

By including carefully chosen classroom materials and using models of big ideas, you can teach big earth science ideas in an easy-to-understand and age-appropriate way. earth science strategies

Using models makes understanding huge things – like mountain ranges – easier for young children. {Photo credit: (c) Karyn Christner, 2007 via Creative Commons}

What are Models?

A model is something that is used to explain an important idea or process, especially if it is very abstract or hard to see. It might be a physical model (such as a scale model of a monument or a diagram of a plant cell. But it could also be numerical (such as the equation length x width x height = volume), or verbal (“I before e, except after c”). Today we will be focusing on physical models.

Earth science strategies that include the use of models help young children learn about the Earth’s systems. First of all, they can represent something that is otherwise hard to imagine. In earth science, where we are teaching about huge things (planets, solar systems, stars), this is extremely important. Second, models of these things help children see how the parts work together in a system. Furthermore, a child who can physically move the parts of a model benefits even more.

What is NOT a Model?

Many people confuse replicas with models. A replica is just a copy (usually miniature) of another object. Kids playing with plastic animals in a sensory table are engaging in replica play. The plastic animals aren’t models, as they don’t explain an important concept, relationship or process.

Sometimes, we use activities that we THINK are earth science strategies that use models, but which aren’t. A well-known, and much-loved, example is the volcano that erupts using baking soda and vinegar. It’s fun, but it doesn’t teach students the important information about volcanoes:

  • their structure
  • relationships between the part above the Earth’s surface and materials below
  • the process of eruption
  • role of lava in forming the volcanic cone…

So, if you can’t answer the question, “What did you learn about the relationship between ______ and ______?” using a model, then it isn’t a model!

Models and Hands-On Materials for Kindergarten Earth Science

How do we select the best models for teaching earth science? Let’s look at early childhood programs based on Montessori, Charlotte Mason and Reggio Emilia ideas. Here, we find a number of good types of classroom supplies used to teach little ones, and see what earth science strategies use them. You will find these materials a help in teaching earth science to early learners, no matter where you teach.

Here are three kinds of science models that have withstood the test of time and are effective, hands-on ways to help young children understand concepts in earth science:

1.       Globes

First up in our list of earth science models is the globe. Globes are smaller-scale representations of the Earth. By using globes in earth science, students learn that the Earth is a sphere, surrounded by space, and that the oceans and land masses on its surface interact with one another in a global system.

Many Montessori classrooms also show the difference between the land masses and the oceans by using sandpaper to cover the continents of the Earth. As a result, students learn that there is a pattern to how the globe shows land and water in both color and texture, and the distribution of land and water over the Earth’s surface. Globes can also be used in demonstrations involving light sources, to help students understand day and night, and seasons.

Some globes split in two, revealing the layers of the Earth within. In this way, the model is used to show the relationship between the land masses on the surface and the materials deep within the Earth. earth science strategies

Using globes helps young children understand the Earth’s position in space. {Photo Credit: (c) Jon Jordan, 2012 via Creative Commons}

2.       World Map Puzzles

To further explore the land and water of the Earth’s surface, early childhood teachers use a variety of sturdy world map puzzles to teach the relationship between the land masses and oceans of the world. Ideally, the pieces of the puzzle are shaped like the land and water masses of the Earth’s surface. Most early childhood teachers use wooden puzzles, often with knobs to help little hands grasp and place the pieces more easily. These sturdy classroom materials last for many years.

Earth science strategies that involve globes and maps also are used to connect to geography, as teachers can begin with physical maps and globes, and then gradually shift to using political ones. earth science strategies

World maps should have pieces shaped like the land forms of the Earth’s surface. {Photo credit (c) Katherine Clark, 2012 via Creative Commons}

3.       Montessori Land forms

The third example of the earth science strategies that I love to borrow from Montessori classrooms is the use of land form models. Using these models, students learn about the names for different land masses: peninsula, isthmus, delta, etc. Some teachers buy these land forms models. Still others create them using salt dough or similar materials, or even have the children make them.

Students focus on identifying and describing a specific land form, using its unique attributes. Then, they can apply this learning to their work with maps and globes.

4.       Other Helpful models and materials

There are other models that are helpful for specific parts of earth science instruction. One model is the stream table. Stream tables are extremely useful when talking about the interaction between the water and land masses of the Earth’s surface. Another model that I would add to your classroom is a timeline. Geological timelines can help students understand how slowly Earth changes are happening. Finally, when possible, use real fossils, rock and mineral specimens, and other earth materials for authentic hands-on work.

Final Thoughts on Using Models

Today, I’ve taught you what a model is. Additionally, we discussed how earth science strategies using models can help young children learn important earth science concepts. Finally, I shared with you three models that I think all early childhood classrooms should have: globes, world map puzzles, and Montessori land forms.

Next time, I will share with you some ways that preschool and kindergarten teachers have incorporated these models into a purposeful sequence, so that little ones learn important ideas about the Earth’s surface.

If you’re shopping for teaching materials… earth science strategies models

Illuminated globe with base ~ $49.98 at Hearthsong. earth science strategies models

World map puzzle ~$11.04 at Barnes and Noble



You might also be interested in…

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What models do you use to teach earth science?  Leave a comment below!










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Get Started Teaching Science: You, Too, Can Be a Science Teacher!

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Teaching Science … Who, Me?

So, you’re teaching science next week… Moms, teachers: please raise your hand if you were a science major in college.

{Crickets chirping}

Chances are, you raised your hand – and that’s okay. Because most people weren’t. As a result, you know that teaching science is something that you must do this year… But where to begin?

You probably have a teacher’s guide for language arts. On your desk, you have workbooks with tons of math problems and handwriting practice. Maybe you boast ten lifetime memberships to computer game sites. And, of course, your library is filled with just-right books for you children. But the “what” and “how” of teaching science intimidates you.

So, to help you out, I will share ten tips for getting started teaching science ~ ways that anyone can begin. Choose any of these tips, and stick with it for 30 days, and you will be on your way to building a solid science teaching habit in your homeschool or classroom. I promise.

10 Tips for Getting Started Teaching Science

If you are anxious about teaching science, maybe you have one of three main problems:

  1. You have no clear science topic in mind;
  2. Perhaps you have a topic, but don’t have any ideas for presenting it;
  3. Or, you have a topic and some ideas, but wish you had more science knowledge.

So, let’s look more closely at each of these problems, and talk about some tips for solving them. getting started teaching science

You might be worried about finding a topic for your science lessons ~ but you need go no farther than your own yard to find one! {Photo credit (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2016}

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Back to School time is here … are YOU ready?

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Dealing with “Back to School” Jitters

Are you getting ready to go back to school now? You’ve assembled curriculum… Your custodians are buffing school floors and getting classrooms sparkly… Teachers are busy making desk name tags and unpacking supplies. And you can’t go to any Wal-Mart without stumbling over “Back to School” displays in full regalia.

http://simplesciencestrategies back to school

Your bulletin board is ready… but are YOU?

There is a lot of excitement during Back to School Season. The school supplies (ahhh… those school supplies…), new clothes, new teachers. But, for many of us, going back to school in the fall can also bring a serious case of nerves.

Maybe we don’t like the idea of swapping flip flops for dress shoes. Perhaps it’s the change in routine, from late morning starts to getting up with the birds.  There are many reasons why the start of the school year creates mixed emotions in young and old, alike.


Tips for Easing Back to a School Routine

Wherever you teach, there are some things you can do to make the transition easier for everyone:

  1. First, honor those feelings.

Sarah Leitschuh, of Sarah Leitschuh Counseling, PLLC, suggests acknowledging a child’s misgivings about going back to school, even if you don’t share them. Parent’s can involve their children in back to school preparations, such as picking out a new lunchbox. Teachers can send “welcome” postcards late in the summer. In “Children and Stressors: Beginning of the School Year,” Leitschuh gives many tips for helping everyone get off to a good start on their new year.

My friends at Bright Ideas Press  discuss emotions and schooling in “Emotional Homeschoolers: Learning to Handle Emotions. back to school

When kids go back to school in the fall, they may be leaving behind a lot of play ~ use fun and educational activities to ease them back to school. {Photo credit (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2010}

  1. Plan fun activities for the first days and weeks.

Even if you’re working with the adults in the building, remember that their heads might be elsewhere, too.  The may still be thinking of the Cape, or that daycare drop-off. Can we bring a little play in to help us make the switch from vacation to profession?

Donna Morgan recently wrote of a great way to ease groups (both young and old) into working together, by focusing on the simple soap-bubble! In “Bubbles – They Are Not Just for Kids, You Know!“, Morgan shares how she uses soap-bubble blowing as a way to focus on breathing, being present and observing and visualizing ourselves in a positive place.

What a great idea for a first staff meeting!

  1. Prepare for rough spots.

Our best defense is a good offense. Instead of reacting to rough days during back to school week, let’s prepare in advance so we have a strategy.

When we are having a tough day, it’s easy for our kids’ tough days to get under our skin. In “How to Stay Calm in the Moment,” Jessica Cowling shares her insight as a mom on how to observe during times of conflict with a child.

As a classroom teacher, I have used this strategy time and time again. By being able to step out of my feelings and ask myself, “What are the kids trying to tell me? What do they need?” I am able to derail my own emotions and realize, “They’re telling me they need to get up,” or “They’re telling me it’s just too hot to think today.” back to school

Staying organized is the key to keeping your back to school week running smoothly ~ and keeping your nerves intact. {Photo credit (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2011}

  1. Stay organized.

I once worked with a woman who never left work at the end of the day without her desk cleaned and organized. Her inbox was empty. Her pencils were sharpened. Her plants were watered and her goldfish fed. The trash can was emptied and her folder for the next day was placed neatly in the center of her blotter. When she walked out the door, she was peaceful and usually humming to herself.

Here’s a routine to start right on the first day you go back to work: spend the last half-hour of your day planning for tomorrow. Mike Gardner (“The Time Doctor”) discusses this tip that is sure to give anyone (homeschooler, classroom teacher or coach) a bit more peace at the start of each school day.

  1. Take your classroom outdoors.

There really isn’t anything that you have to teach that you can’t teach, back to school

Just 15 minutes outside is all you need to add fun, interest and important science learning to your back to school days ~ see A Child’s Garden for ideas! {Photo credit (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2011}

at least in part, out-of-doors. During Back to School month, planning outdoor breaks is great, but planning part of an real lesson outdoors makes that time do double duty, serving body, mind and spirit of the teacher, as well as the students.

In my post, “Welcome to “A Child’s Garden,” I share links to many ways you can use just 15 minutes of your day to refresh your teaching, through nature studies, experiments and guided expeditions.

Free Stuff to help you start the year!

Teachers love a little help, especially at the start of the school year. One thing I’ve found helpful in my classrooms is the use of notebooking pages to help jumpstart students’ writing. Why not try them, risk-free, with a free membership promotion? I’ve been a lifetime member of the Notebooking Treasury at since 2010 – try the free membership and I guarantee you will become a member, too!

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What do you do to ease students (and staff!) back to school in the fall?

Leave a comment below ~ we love to hear from you and share our ideas! If you found this article helpful, and would like to see more, subscribe to this website using the subscription gadget in the sidebar. Happy Back to School!













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