Category Archives: ESS 2: Earth’s Systems

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…

http://simplesciencestrategies apple

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










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Preschool Weather Observations

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In seed-time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy. ~William Blake

{This post is Part 1 of “The Weather Calendar:  Science Activities for Preschool, Elementary Grades and Beyond,” a 6-part series on weather observations as part of daily math and science teaching in the early childhood years, and beyond}

“What is the Weather Today?”

Are you looking for a way to hook your students in your daily lessons? Do you have some students who still struggle with number concepts or math and science vocabulary? Has winter weather disrupted your flow and distracted your students?

Of course, most of you will answer yes, yes and yes – especially if you live in the Northeastern United States, where we (once again) are being buried in snow. If this is you, consider adding a weather calendar to your morning routine.

I once was working with a group of first grade teachers and recommended calendar routines as an important addition to the daily mathematics repertoire. One teacher balked, saying, “I think calendar routines are a big waste of time. There are so many more important things to do during that time than calendars.” I so disagree! While those of us who have taught kindergarten no doubt use a weather graph somewhere in our school year, weather observations and calendar routines can be adapted and used to teach important grade-level concepts from preschool through grade 3, and higher:

  • By keeping the number of data points low (under 31), weather observations on a calendar can be used for initial or remedial teaching of important concepts of number;
  • Through careful choice of what is recorded on the calendar, grade-level earth science concepts can be layered on and emphasized;
  • Because of the discussion format of calendar time, proper use of the content vocabulary of math and science can be practiced.
  • During conversation, students will have the opportunity to ask and answer questions, analyze and make predictions and statements about data.
  • By focusing on weather phenomena, students can practice new ideas using familiar, readily observable content (the weather).

With better understanding of the grade level math and science possibilities, preschool weather observations, and weather calendar work, can be incorporated into daily routines in all early childhood (birth to grade 3) years, and beyond.

Hip Homeschool Moms


Understanding Toddlers and Preschoolers

The preschool years are a time of incredible physical, social, interpersonal and cognitive growth. Babies step out of the familiarity of their home into the bigger world of preschool, daycare or play group. They take in and make sense of a seemingly infinite amount of new information, and begin to make sense of it all. The big advantage teachers (both homeschool and classroom) have when working with children at this age is their innate sense of wonder about everything. Using observations about the weather can be a great way to hook students on looking at the world like a scientist.

In order to make the most targeted use of preschool weather observations and calendar routines for your students, it helps to first note what important number and science concepts toddlers and preschoolers should understand:

 Toddlers to Preschoolers~

  • Understanding and working with numbers to 5
  • Observing and recording patterns in the weather
  • Sorting objects into groups based on one attribute
  • Noting the effect of weather on the environment

A “Circle Time” Staple: the Weather Calendar

Let’s break the concepts above into individual pieces, and see how your weather activities can address each. For each part, I will share some ideas for how to make the best use of this wonderful time of the day. For veterans, some of this information will be old news. But I will also tell you why these activities work with young children, and how they can be powerful ways to emphasize important math and science concepts.

Focus on School Day Observations, Monday through Friday

What to do:

In my classroom, I had one pocket chart that had spots for the date or weather cards for each day of the week: seven pockets in all. Because my preschoolers often didn’t really understand the difference between Saturday and Sunday (especially if they didn’t attend preschool every day of the week), I sometimes ignored the weekend pockets. Sometimes, we knew about an event (“Sarah, your birthday party was on Saturday, right? What was the weather on Saturday, do you remember?”). But mostly we used observations that we made right then, so we focused on the days of the school week. preschool weather observations

Use a weekly (rather than a monthly) calendar for weather recording with preschoolers. {Photo credit: (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2015}


Why it works:

By focusing on Monday through Friday on our winter weather calendar, we can then practice counting within five: an important skill to begin with toddlers and preschoolers. Very young children learn to master the numbers up to five, because they can count them on one hand!

But understanding the idea of the numbers 1-5 is also an important skill for students to master before they work with larger numbers, which they will learn to break apart into the smaller, “friendlier” numbers of 1-5. For example, they will use tools, such as a ten-frame, to see that the number 7 is made up of 5 and 2 more. In fact, adults do this when counting large numbers of objects, or memorizing phone numbers (which are broken into series of 3- and 4-number sections, not by accident). So really understanding the meaning of the numbers 1-5 is a foundation for work with bigger numbers when they are four and five years old.


The Daily Weather Report

What to do:

As a preschool teacher, I taught in a co-op, where parents helped out with some of the daily tasks of running the school. The classes with 2- and 3-year-olds had two helping parents; the 3- and 4-year-old classes had one helper. If your parent was a helper that day (and everyone’s parent helped), you were the Weather Reporter for the day. {If you don’t have a co-op, or you are doing this in your homeschool, you can set up a rotating schedule for this job.}

We would all sing the “What is the Weather?” song, as the Weather Reporter(s) looked out the nearby classroom window, to decide what the weather was that day:

What is the Weather? {sung to “Mama’s Little Baby Loves Short’nin’ Bread”}

What is the weather, weather, weather?

What is the weather {clap} today?

What is the weather, weather, weather?

What is the weather {clap} today?


The Weather Reporters then either chose from a selection of pre-made weather symbols (that fit inside each pocket), or drew the weather symbol on the chart (when we used a hand-made version). Once the Weather Reporters came back to the circle and reported their findings, we finished the song:

Jesse says it’s sunny, sunny, sunny.

Jesse says it’s sunny {clap} today.

What a good job, job, job,

What a good job Jesse did!


I will not be lying if I told you that sometimes observing the weather took a looooonnnnggg time! If a child had a hard time doing this task (which often happens with the littlest ones), buddying up helped. Sometimes we would need to narrow down the choices for kids (“Is it cold or hot today?”) Focusing on one type of weather observation (sunny/cloudy, hot/warm/cold, etc) often helped the youngest children. This also helped later when we began to sort our observations.



Why it works:

When children are very young, our goal in science, and in all things, is to get them to LOOK. The patterned and predictable nature of a calendar routine helps define for little ones what observation looks, sounds and feels like. The song routine helps them to develop the content specific vocabulary around weather that helps them later ask and answer questions about the weather.

The Weekly Weather Report

What to do:

After a week of weather watching, my kids had between 5 and 7 weather observations on their weekly weather calendar. The Class Mathematician (a class “job” that I used in grades pK through 3, for attendance, calendar work, number line work… any time we needed to count anything) would remove the weather symbols from the calendar, and sort them so that like symbols were grouped together. {Note: Velcro or magnet dots on the backs of the cards enable you to use your felt board or white board as a place to sort.} Once sorted, we would chorally count how many were in each group. preschool weather observations

Make use of a classroom window to make weather observations in the winter months. {Photo credit: (c) Glenn Beltz, 2014 via Creative Commons}


Why it works:

Before children learn that a numeral matches a number name, and matches a quantity, they learn how to match one object with another: they put one plate next to each chair, one napkin on each plate, and one spoon on each napkin, while setting the table for snack. They also learn how to visually discriminate among objects, and match like objects with like objects. This 1:1 correspondence is an important concept that lays the foundation for understanding the meaning of numbers later on. Because we are limiting our observations to seven, it is easy for little ones to count the cards in each category, as the quantity will be a number within five.

What is “sunny?”

What to do:

As we studied new weather words, we began creating posters for each word. I used large butcher paper or chart paper, which I hung on an easel near our meeting area. An ongoing center in my classroom was the magazine center, where (in this case) students would be looking for pictures that show what sunny looks like. These pictures, plus students’ own drawings and mini-paintings, would be glued to the poster. Every morning, during the weather calendar, we would talk about the poster, and ask, “What does sunny weather do to the environment?” Children would use their own work to describe the effects of sunny weather on the environment: grass grows, snow melts, clothes dry, etc.

When we finished discussing a weather term, I laminated the poster and hung it on the wall as a reference tool for students. preschool weather observations

Let children express understanding of weather words in many ways. {Photo credit bberlin2015, 2010 via Creative Commons}

Why it works:

I like to tie language and vocabulary into all my teaching, because I want students to talk like scientists and mathematicians. Part of the process for little children is to connect words, images and the real world together, to build the vocabulary understanding in the child’s mind.

A child’s understanding of a concept is called schema. In the beginning, they have relatively little understanding of a concept (“I see a sun. It is sunny.”). With each exposure to the idea, they begin to build understanding of the idea. Sometimes, their schema contains errors or misconceptions. One thing I often had to clarify is the difference between “sunny” and “warm.” Children would see the bright sun in January and say it was “warm” outside, or see snow on the ground, on a sunny winter day, and say it was snowy. Taking kids outside for a brief nature walk on a sunny winter day, or having them look closely at where the snow was (“Is the snow on the ground? Or is it in the air?”), were needed to clarify this misconception. The iterative process of researching, visualizing and discussing the relationship between weather and the environment helps refine the child’s schema, or conceptual framework, related to weather.

Preschool Weather Observations Yield Mighty Learning Results

Weather routines do much more than give kids a chance to check the weather. As we’ve seen, with a proper focus, they can be a way to get daily practice with important grade-level ideas in science and mathematics. They also provide opportunity for students to discourse about their learning.

So let’s dust off those pocket charts and get ready for some weather reporting!

Weather – Watching Materials for Your Classroom

I’ve gathered some helpful materials for weather-watching and weather studies with preschoolers, all in one place. Click to order directly from this page.

Poem in My Pocket: Winter PreK-1 ($13.99 at Barnes & Noble)


Poetry + pocket charts = lively literacy lessons! Each book features five original poems. For each poem, the book provides word and picture cards designed for use in pocket charts, and much more! This Volume, “Winter,” is a perfect accompaniment to your winter weather observations.

COMPLETE Calendar & Weather Pocket Chart ($36.99 at Barnes & Noble)

Complete calendar and weather study pocket chart, with date cards, months of the year and days of the week, weather symbols, and more!



Emma’s Cold Day ($1.99 at Barnes & Noble)

In her latest escapade, Emma is one game hen with a big problem. It’s the middle of winter and the chicken coop is freezing. Learn about how farm animals stay warm in the winter in this zany tale of Emma, an adventurous chicken, in this award-winning children’s book.










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Winter Nature Walk: Looking for Patterns (Winter Study 1)

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There’s nothing like a nice nature walk to help you gather new ideas for future nature studies. We have had an unusually warm December, and took the opportunity to take a great, long walk with with the dog, to see what is happening in the world around us, to clear the indoor cobwebs from our heads, and to just enjoy the outside air.  Here are the potential nature study topics that our walk generated:

All Kinds of Patterns

[by Kim M. Bennett]

Stone Walls

Here in New England, stone walls are as ubiquitous as sandy beaches are on the seashore. Geologists at the University of Connecticut study the patterns of stone walls in the Northeastern United States, because they teach us about the underlying bedrock upon which are towns and villages are built. Farmers of the early colonies could only move the glacial rubble so far, so the patterns of the rubble they could move tell about the patterns of the glaciers that formed the rubble.

Geology Patterns in Connecticut

$16.95 at Barnes & Noble

A few years back, we read Stone Wall Secrets, by Robert M. Thorson, a fictional account of a young boy, and the stories his father tells him about the natural history of his farm, as they sit upon the stone wall that surrounds it. I bought a teacher’s guide  to accompany a study of the geology of Connecticut several years back.

Connections: Geology, mineral cycle, weathering, Ice Age

An Ecological study of moss and lichens

There is an old belief that moss grows more heavily on the north sides of trees. As we walked, my husband even quoted this little gem. I remember that some of my college companions conducted an ecological study of this, to determine if it was true or not. I can’t recall! But it would be a fun thing to study, and easy for the winter, since moss stays so green all winter, here.

Connections: Ecology, forest biomes, mosses & lichens, population studies

Fractals: the math of natural patterns

Have you ever doodled in your notebook, creating branching patterns that branch again, then branch at the branches, and so on, and so on, until you run out of paper? If so, you are experimenting with fractals.

The science of fractals has turned observation on its end. It was once believed that, the closer you looked at something, the simpler the design, and, if you could look closely enough, you would see the simple geometric building blocks of every design. What we have found, instead, is that closer looks reveal increasing complex designs that often look like miniature versions of the larger design (think about fern fronds, or the branches on the oak tree in the photo, above, to see what I mean).

We might have to visit our post on “The Mathematics of Nature: Fractals,” adding a study of the branching patterns of oaks in our back woods.

Connections: geometry, number series, drawing, botany

The Patterns of exercise and our bodies

It is easy to stay shut in during cold weather where we live. But getting outside and moving is good for body, mind and spirit. Plus, we can count it as physical education and health, when we homeschool!

There are tons of apps for smart phones that let you log in and measure how many footsteps you take when you walk, how far you hike, your heart rate, and other data. Kids love these apps (heck, I love them!), and graphing is an important part of both math and science instruction. (As an adult, I find it helps me keep on an exercise schedule, if I am monitoring these things).

I downloaded My Fitness Pal to my smart phone — many people I know find it to be the most fun and easiest to use. Maybe my son could graph his parents weight as a function of how many miles of hiking we do this winter? Hmmm…

Connections: health, fitness, exercise, anatomy, graphing

Flowering schedules

Garden journal imageI saw this great little gardening journal template in Microsoft Word. It had places for notes, and photos, and lists (ooohhh… I love lists…). And a little section at the beginning of each month, where you record what plants are blooming.

What a great year-long idea for a child’s nature notebook!

We were very surprised to find the native witchhazel still in bloom (it peaks at the end of October here). At the end of January, some species crocus might bloom, if the weather is right. Then February can bring in some daffodils, plus the chamaecyparis. Before the peak bloom season, it might be a great time to start putting together a monthly bloom-time journal, to see patterns in when different types of plants bloom in your region.

[PS – Our seed catalogs started arriving last week. We’re very excited!]

Connections: gardening, diagrams, notebooking/journaling, botany

weather watching

We have always had an assortment of weather-watching equipment at the ready: an outdoor thermometer that looks beautiful and makes my husband very happy; a little rain gauge/weather vane that we fastened onto the porch support; rain barrels and other assorted rain measuring devices. These were fascinating for all of us. When you plot temperature, air pressure, wind speed or rainfall, you usually see patterns that reflect your region.

One year, my eldest and I used a cloud chart to forecast the weather. It certainly isn’t the long-range forecast we get on the news, but it’s pretty accurate within 24 hours, and fun for kids (and adults). There’s a great cloud chart that can be used to predict the weather available at Weather Forecasting Cloud Chart.

Connections: graphing, prediction, meteorology

Symmetry in nature

In fourth grade geometry, my son is learning about symmetry. This abstract idea is much easier to convey when you use real-life items in the natural world, to demonstrate it.

Take photos of objects and guide your children to draw lines of symmetry on the photos, rather than using 2D line drawings of geometric figures, only.

Connections: geometry, art/drawing

Fibonacci numbers

math wizardry patterns in nature1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55… can you complete the series? And do you know why these numbers are important?

These numbers are Fibonacci numbers, and the string of numbers is called a Fibonacci series. Natural objects are divided into parts represented by these numbers, and beautiful paintings can be divided into sections that represent this series. The number of needles in a bundle of pine needles, the winding of a vine around a pole, the number of scales on a pine cone … all contain Fibonacci numbers.

Read more about Fibonacci numbers, the Golden Proportion, and fractals in Math Wizardry for Kids (a favorite of my eldest son, a real math whiz).

Connections: mathematics, art, proportions


I was just commenting yesterday that we were in the middle of a huge dry season. I spoke too soon! It absolutely poured today. Even yesterday, our hiking was limited on the nature trail because of exceptionally soggy ground.

The woods behind our house has low-lying spots that are the vernal and autumnal nesting spots of spring peepers. We usually start hearing these little fellows around March, around the time when we start to see skunk cabbage poking through the slush and leaf litter. My eldest now serves on the town conservation commission, so he makes it his business to know all about our vernal pools.

All you need to measure rainfall is a flat pan, like a roasting pan or plastic shoebox, and a ruler. To convert between snow in the winter, and water, take the pan inside, let the frozen precipitation melt, and then measure (some people divide by 10, but this varies with the type of snow you get).

Connections: weather, measurement, observation

So What Will We Study?

Tough choices! Here’s what we decided:

  • the patterns of temperature and precipitation (so we can do some graphing)
  • snowflakes
  • using Fibonacci numbers to draw vines
  • predicting the weather through cloud watching

Here’s to a great (and mathematical) winter!

Happy Holidays!


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