By Amy Gaulke
Public and Media Relations Manager; Sciencenter
The mission of the Sciencenter is to inspire excitement for science through interactive exhibits and programs that engage, educate, and empower. With the onset of the Science from the Start program, an IMLS-funded project, the Sciencenter has been able to extend this mission by empowering parents, caregivers, and early childhood educators to integrate science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) into everyday activities for preschool children.
Through Science from the Start, the Sciencenter develops and delivers workshops that help adults engage their children ages 3-5 years in science by providing them with the support, training, and exploration-based activities that will increase their comfort and knowledge of methods to encourage their children’s STEM learning. Studies show us that two of the greatest predictors of successful children are parental involvement in education and exploratory learning where children are free to play and think creatively. Science from the Start builds on these principles through two distinct platforms that help to strengthen the bond between parent/caregiver and child through education.
The first grant-funded Science from the Start platform consists of Professional Development workshops. The Sciencenter invites and works alongside of Tompkins Community Action Head Start/Early Head Start and the Downtown Ithaca Children’s Center teachers at monthly seminars. At each workshop, Sciencenter educators discuss current research in early childhood cognition and introduce hands-on science activities from the ECHOS (Early Childhood Hands on Science) Curriculum* that educators can utilize in their own classrooms. Educators may replicate or adjust activities to meet the needs of their students while putting research-based principles to work.
The second platform is a series of on-site Family Workshops at the museum and off-site lessons at several Head Start locations. At each workshop, parents and their children are invited to work with Sciencenter educators as they share current research and instruct hands-on activities to encourage science behaviors in young children. This is coupled with one of the Sciencenter’s free on-site program, Science Together, where guests at the museum participate in programming twice a week to learn science principles through stories and activities that can be applied at home.
By strengthening existing partnerships with local daycare centers and preschools and expanding our reach with the Sciencenter’s current audience, Science from the Start builds the Sciencenter’s capacity to meet the needs of our youngest guests by creating science literate, engaged adults who can inspire STEM learning at home, in school, and at the museum.
Since the commencement of the Science from the Start program, we have recognized several areas for improvement and modification to better meet the needs of our audience. By collecting surveys and communicating directly with program participants, we were able to determine that the Professional Development Teacher Workshops would be more successful with a monthly schedule; this small adjustment has resulted in noticeable increased accountability by the educators in attendance.
Initially, each Teacher workshop was intended to be a presentation and discussion of new materials followed by hands-on interaction for attendees to learn the process of each lessons. After listening to feedback, we revised each workshop to begin with Sciencenter educators briefly introducing various planned science activities, and then following up after each teacher has interacted with the materials to discuss what worked and what didn’t to determine best practices. This has not only resulted in a positive, team-based atmosphere, but has also allowed the Sciencenter staff to build stronger, ongoing relationships with the educators. In addition, since the Sciencenter works with teachers of infants, toddlers, and preschool-aged children, many of the ECHOS materials had to be adapted to better fit these learning levels.
The Science from the Start Parent Workshops have also evolved since the start of the program. Originally billed as parent training, they are now offered as “family” workshops open to parents and children to work and learn side by side. Parents are able to try activities and apply lessons immediately with their children and determine what works and what does not, and receive prompt response and support from Sciencenter educators.
The evaluators we have utilized for both platforms of this program have helped us immensely to think about what feedback we need and how to analyze that feedback in a constructive and effective way so that we may promote change and growth. Recent advances in early childhood science point to the immediacy of early learning experiences. These findings are a testament to the incredible learning potential of young children and as a well-used learning resource for families with young children, the Sciencenter is thrilled to enhance science education in our community by providing parents, caregivers, and educators with new opportunities to connect their children with science in the formative years.
*ECHOS (Early Childhood Hands on Science) Curriculum was created in Miami through the Patricia and Philip Frost Museum of Science and was researched and evaluated by Miami-Dade County Head Start classrooms.
Amy Gaulke is the Public and Media Relations Manager at the Sciencenter. The Sciencenter inspires excitement for science through 250+ interactive exhibits and programs that engage, educate, and empower. www.sciencenter.org.