March 16, 2023
Inspired by the NISE Network’s, Exploring Science Practices: Early Exploration hands-on activity for early learners, Spark! Imagination and Science Center in Morgantown, West Virginia created its Early Explorers program. Early Explorers is a drop-in, hands-on science program for kids 4 and younger and their grown-ups.
In creating the Early Explorers program, Spark staff started with the ideas presented on the NISE Network’s “Do Science Together” bookmark that was part of the Exploring Science Practices program. The bookmark explains that children at a very young age can gain scientific understanding by:
- making observations and predictions
- using tools
- problem solving
When creating activities for Early Explorers, staff ensure that children will be accomplishing one or more of these actions when participating in the activities.
Each Early Explorers program has a unique theme with 2-3 hands-on activities that explore that theme. Themes have included Simple Machines, Measuring, Rainbow Lab, Shadows, and much more. Spark uses a mix of NISE Network activities and supplemental activities for these programs. For example, the program based on shadows used the NISE Network program Exploring Earth: Bear’s Shadow activity and a supplemental activity in which children had access to a large lamp, a screen, and different shapes to make shadows. For the Early Explorers: Water program, Spark utilized the materials from the NISE Network’s Exploring Science Practices: Early Explorations and added two other activities. In one activity, children had access to a bin filled with water and a variety of “tools” to explore the water, such as cups, funnels, colanders, and tubes. In the other activity, a small bin of water was set out with a variety of materials that would sink or float. Children were encouraged to predict which objects would sink and which would float before putting them in the water.
During the program, Spark’s Education Coordinator is present to assist visitors, but takes a hands-off approach when possible, encouraging the child’s caregiver to facilitate the activities. The Education Coordinator takes notes on how the children and their caregivers react to the activities to make improvements for future programs and to note caregiver and child reactions to the activities. Caregivers and children have been excited about the program. During one program, a parent stated about his three-year old, “He’s acting like a scientist, mixing things together!”
Spark has received grant funding for this program for the past two years. Twelve programs are scheduled throughout the calendar year. There is no additional cost for museum patrons to participate in the program; everyone who pays museum admission or utilizes Museums for All to get in for free is welcome to participate in Early Explorers.