“I am among those who think that science has great beauty. A scientist in his laboratory is not only a technician: he is also a child placed before natural phenomena which impress him like a fairy tale.” —Marie Curie
Natural phenomena are fascinating to young children. Rain, thunder, lightning, rainbows. Bugs crawling, leaves falling. A bird building a nest, water flowing after a heavy rain. And speaking of heavy rains ...
As I write this, we have recently endured several severe tropical storms and hurricanes in the U.S. that have dominated the news. Most children have heard about these (sometimes scary) storms. That makes it especially important that they learn about the weather and all the changes weather can cause for people and their homes, as well as to plants and animals.
Such well-publicized weather events are also opportunities to build science knowledge and skills. Expect your child to be fully engaged: big weather events have an almost magical fairy tale appeal, both scary and full of wonder for children.
First, families can help their children by calmly talking about how to be prepared for weather emergencies. Making children feel safe is as important as explaining how these weather events happen.
When dramatic weather events occur, it’s a good time to help children understand more about where they live in relation to where the events are, and to compare what is going on in their neighborhood with what is happening in, for example, the Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, the Caribbean, or the Gulf of Mexico. You can discuss which areas are most likely to experience different types of severe weather, and why.
Studying the weather can include many aspects of science:
- air, wind
- rain, snow, sleet, hail, fog, drizzle
- weather changes
- seasonal changes
There are also many wonderful books on these topics. Here are a few:
- Weather Forecasting by Gail Gibbons
- National Geographic Readers: Storms! by Miriam Goin
- National Geographic Readers: Water by Melissa Stewart
- A Place Where Hurricanes Happen by Shadra Strickland
- Water is Water: A Book About the Water Cycle by Miranda Paul
- Pop! Air and Water Pressure (Time for KIDS® Nonfiction Readers) by Stephanie Paris
- When the Sky Breaks: Hurricanes, Tornadoes, and the Worst Weather in the World (Smithsonian) by Simon Winchester
After reading about weather, consider starting a family project to observe the weather around you for a week or a month, and document observations in a journal. Children can draw pictures for the journal, and either write about their pictures themselves or get help from an adult to write down their thoughts.
At the top of this post is a picture that one of my grandchildren drew after we evacuated for Hurricane Harvey. She dictated her thoughts about the picture to me and I wrote them down for her. This kind of activity gives children a way to be part of the conversation and express their ideas and fears when the adults around them are talking about weather events.
Because water plays such a large role in weather events, another suggestion is for you and your child to do activities that focus on water and its properties.
- freeze it, melt it, pour it, evaporate it
- float or sink things in it using a small bowl or bin
- come up with water-related words: splashing, falling, dripping, drizzling, raining, wetting
Through activities such as these, as your children learn about the weather, they will also develop an academic vocabulary (nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs) that enable them to understand and express more complex ideas on many topics.
The wonder of weather is that every day is a new learning opportunity.