A group of early childhood educators gave up a day of summer break to gain a better understanding of how to introduce science-based concepts to preschoolers.
Bill Donato, a retired Woodstock High School science teacher who now serves as director of the McHenry County Schools Environmental Education Program, coordinated the workshop in hopes of educating even younger minds than what the program typically sees, K-12 students.
“I thought it would be a great idea to go even lower [in age] because kids are so curious already, and many of the teachers don’t have as much experience with science,” Donato said. “We’re trying to get these kids to think as a scientist at a very young age. They can do this. We have tiny little ramps, and rocks. Kids roll the rocks down the ramps. Why does this rock go faster, or father than the last one?”
Presenting the workshop were Bob Williams and Mary Hobbs, educators and partners. Together, Williams and Hobbs launched a successful STEM program to preschools in the Austin, Texas, area in 2008. Hobbs is the coordinator for science initiatives at the University of Texas at Austin, and Williams taught at Southern Illinois University – Edwardsville for 30 years before continuing his work at the University of Texas. The pair travel all over the country presenting ideas and concepts that help pull the natural curiosities out of students.
“In 2008, we got a national grant to look at what 4-year-olds can do in science. We worked with 24 teachers and researchers in the Austin area. We learned, as we expected, that 4-year-olds can do a lot more than we give them credit for doing,” Hobbs said.
Concepts covered included force and motion, properties of matter and classifying found objects. Teachers were shown how to involve their students in gardening and given all of the materials for making a square-foot garden in their classrooms.
Mary Kawalski, a pre-K teacher at Verda Dierzen Early Learning Center, was one of the 26 area teachers to attend.
“I attended because I felt I could always do better in science areas. Getting the knowledge from someone who has really worked hard in these fields will really benefit my students,” Kawalski said.
“We talked about rocks a lot. I never really thought about how I could use rocks in my classroom and have it be so beneficial to the kids,” Kawalski said.
The workshop, taught July 28 at Glacial Park in Ringwood, was made possible thanks to a grant from the McHenry County Community Foundation.
“We’re so appreciative of the foundation for funding these two to come in,” Donato added.
In addition to the gardening materials, each attendee received other new items for their classrooms – including a balance tool, collection box and textbook.
“You can never really know what a child is thinking, but you can observe how they respond and how they answer questions,” Hobbs said.