Using Art to Teach Science

While it is not at all unusual to see a classroom of late 2- and early 3-year-olds excited about bugs, the way one of our classrooms recently explored bugs over a period of weeks was a great example of using ideas from museum education to compliment best practices in early childhood education. The teachers in that classroom–Elaine, Ashlee and Carolyn–combined art, sculpture, exhibitions, literature, real bugs, and mounted specimens to talk first about spiders and then to move to a study of insects and other crawling and flying creatures…all of which culminated in the children creating an exhibition that was “opened” to a full audience of parents and others! How these teachers combined art and science together with play and exploration to curate a learning experience for the children was nothing short of masterful. Here are some of the things they did throughout this study: – They started their discussion of spiders by visiting the large bronze spider sculpture in the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden. Here they did careful looking to see what they could notice about spiders and sculpture. While there they pulled out spider toys to compare to the sculpture and to the other spider toys using careful looking and  questions.

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Studying the spider sculpture at the NGA Sculpture Garden

-As they moved on to talking about spider webs they headed to the American Art Museum to look at a piece of art made with string wound in an elaborate pattern around a piece of clear plastic and mounted in a frame. They compared this to the photos of spider webs they had seen and sat in front of the piece to read Eric Carle’s Very Busy Spider. Finally, they used yarn to build a life size web of their own with each child holding a piece of the yarn to create a pattern and then balance a toy spider! -Back in the classroom, they gathered tree branches and used yarn to “spin” webs for spiders. Their careful looking made them realize they needed to look for branches that had “L” or “Y” shapes because they made the best spots for spider homes. – The classroom visited the Insect Zoo at the National Museum of Natural History to watch the tarantula feeding on crickets! Here they were also able to see all types of real insects and carefully study things that they had seen in books and photos. – Across the course of the several weeks they also conducted scientific studies of bugs–comparing them, examining their habitats, asking questions and searching for the answers, and studying how they would help the garden we have on our playground. They looked at detailed drawings of crickets and grasshoppers to notice similarities and differences and then brought crickets into their classroom to live. They also used careful looking at photos and specimens to study the difference between moths and butterflies and brought caterpillars into the classroom to live and eventually will watch turn into butterflies. As the weeks passed they also studied worms and ants and watched the ants in their own classroom ant farm. – We feel strongly at SEEC that play is a vital part of the lives of children and we provide open play experiences that are rich and carefully curated too. Props were available for dramatic play and children spent time playing with pretend worms in dirt in the classroom sensory box and used pretend worms for painting, as well as having many other play experiences.


Playing with worms


Searching for bugs

-Real mounted specimens were brought in for them to look at and study. The children were thoughtful about their observations…something you can see reflected in their final exhibition. As Adele narrated to us for her exhibition label for her caterpillar sculpture “….He has a head, thorax and abdomen.”

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Studying the specimens

-To culminate their study they returned to the giant spider sculpture, this time focusing on the idea of sculpture. When they returned to the classroom they created their own insect sculptures for a final exhibition complete with an exhibition case and labels. As a result of this combination of art and science our late two and early three-year-old children know a great deal about insects, spiders, worms, butterflies and moths. They are comfortable telling you all sorts of information about these creatures and have deep knowledge about many “facts” of science without having been drilled on these facts. By providing the children with multiple exposures to an idea in a wide variety of ways we are able to build richer understanding and find that the children are deeply engaged in the topics. Linking art and science makes the science more real and the art more accessible–something that is good for all children!


The exhibitors



The Exhibition Opens!

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The Exhibition Opens!