From buzzing bees to the wonders of water, St Joseph’s Hindmarsh Preschool lead educator Cate Halbert loves encouraging inquisitive young minds to explore the delights of the natural world around them.
For the past five years, Halbert has been actively engaged in the Little Scientists project, a new program provided by Catholic Education South Australia that encourages her young charges to discover the joys of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) through daily play that boosts their natural curiosity. Class projects have included the human body, bees and water.
“It starts by observing the children’s interests,” Halbert says. “At the beginning of the year it was very warm so it made sense to let the children play with lots of water. We read Who Sank the Boat as a lead-in; then we began to make the play more intentional, using props and characters in the water tray so the children could re-enact the story.”
Giving her young learners a physical connection to their learning brought about a natural link to STEM-related subjects.
“Lots of mathematical language came out about sinking and floating,” Halbert says. “Children were asking, ‘Why is your boat sinking? Well, this animal’s heavier, this one’s smaller’.
“Then there was the invitation for the students to make a boat, which is where design and technology come in.
“There was also lots of collaborative learning as they tested each other’s boats, before we transferred this new knowledge by placing their boats in the sandpit and making moats.”
A change in the weather gave the project the opportunity to develop further as the conversation turned to rain.
“They started doing water cycle experiments, we were researching videos and books, they started talking about evaporation and drawing ideas and theories,” Halbert says. “Then it turned to rainbows – we put resources on the table with the question, ‘Can you make a rainbow?’ The things they came up with were amazing. Everyone had their own eye and style, and we created little rainbows for the school’s art show.”
Thanks to the Preschool’s success in engaging in the Little Scientists program over the past five years, it was recently awarded “Little Scientist House” status, signalling its commitment to providing quality, hands-on, inquiry-based STEM learning – something Halbert is proud to continue.
“The children are certainly having fun and they bounce off one another,” she says. “There’s a lot to gain from learning from one another.
“When you listen to their conversations and look at what they’re drawing, and they start talking about shapes, numbers and other quite sophisticated concepts, that indicates there’s a lot of rich learning going on.
“Our understanding is the child is fully competent. If you’re allowing children to be co-constructors of their learning, you‘re going to have competent children.”