Children who love science, engineering, and math rarely just pop out of nowhere. Their families know the greatest brain growth is from birth to age eight and do simple activities with them to encourage curiosity. See grandparentsteachtoo.org and "Learning Through the Seasons" pod casts at wnmu.org.
Fancy materials aren't required. It takes a little adult-children time, conversation, and something common-rocks for instance. Look around the neighborhood for rocks children think are beautiful. Take along some small plastic bags, magnifying glasses, pencil and paper. Place rocks in bags with a paper telling where it was found until it goes in the case. Visit a gravel road, rocky beach, rock or mineral show. Count rocks. Make geometric designs. Organize the chosen few into a collection. Craft stores have inexpensive plastic divided containers for beads that are perfect storage, but any small box that can be divided with cardboard sections will work.
ANDEREGG, MACALADY, FOX, HETRICK, KATERS
How are these rocks going to be sorted and organized-- by color, hardness, shape, or where found? Is your family going on a trip? Children may pick up a small rock at important stops and dictate a sentence about where they found the rock, its description, and take a picture. The location can be part of a key to be taped on the bottom of the collection case.
Check out a few children's rock and mineral books to learn the basics. Search on line for "fun with rocks for kids." There are images, videos, and information about the three types of rocks: igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic.
Many museums have rock collection displays and books to identify local rocks. Young children may be most interested in color, shine, and the texture of rocks. (Make sure they and siblings won't put rocks in their mouths.)Their collection could be organized by those categories and reorganized as they grow older and want to learn more.
Rock cairns and throwing
Children love to throw and skip stones in the water. Help them look for thin flat rocks and show them how to flick their wrists to have rocks hit the water on the flat side. On land adults can pick a target to hit.
Making stone balancing piles brings in engineering. Scouts use certain rock piles for warnings and trail markings. Inuits and other Native people make "inuksyk" to symbolize protection, memorials, and holy messages.
How high can the cairn be? How can the rocks be piled large to small, small to large, or mixed up? Can they make a little bridge or window? Cairns can decorate gardens and shorelines. Children can paint them and adults can varnish them to stay shiny in gardens.
Children can decorate pet rocks with wiggly eyes. They can make rock families and animals by painting and gluing rocks together. Sometimes rocks are just for looking at and touching.
Editor's note: This column is penned by retired Marquette Area Public Schools teachers Iris Katers, Jean Hetrick, and Cheryl Anderegg. Esther Macalady is from Golden, Colorado. Tim Fox currently teaches at Superior Hills Elementary. It's supported by Northern Michigan University Center for Economic Education and Entrepreneurship, the School of Education, U.P. Children's Museum, U.P. Association for the Education of Young Children, and U.P. Parent Awareness of Michigan. Their book "Learning Through the Seasons" is available at area stores and www.grandparentsteachtoo.org. Their mission is to provide fun standards based activities that adults can do in the home to prepare children for school and a lifetime of learning and reduce the stress of child care.