Wonders of the Universe Inspire Youngest Minds at IDS-CC
In PreK3, nurturing young children's innate sense of wonder through an International Baccalaureate unit on outer space enables teachers to spark a love for learning.
Feb. 2, 2012 (TAMPA, Fla.) – With blue eyes so wide with wonder they consume his tiny face, three-year
old Adrian Nel talks about the solar system with the sacred awe of one revealing the secret mysteries
of the universe – and scarcely a breath in between sentences.
|Teacher Lauren Bronson listens as a PreK3 student describes the thick clouds that surround Venus. Teachers Leah Gucciardi and Aimee White share their excitement about Jupiter with the class.
His classmates in PreK3 at Independent Day School-Corbett Campus share his amazement with all things
celestial. As colorful planets, shiny stars, and a bright orange sun dangle from the classroom ceiling above
their heads, they are eager to share newfound knowledge.
Lucia Redner, for example, tells you that Uranus rotates sideways. Lucia’s twin, Lorelei, knows that the
sun is a medium-sized star, and Dalton Palestra says that Mercury has no atmosphere at all.
For four weeks, PreK3 students pondered the cosmos, studying planets and constellations and concepts
such as gravity and space exploration. The academic unit was called “How the World Works,” and was
part of the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program.
Teachers Lauren Bronson, Leah Gucciardi and Aimee White presented the central idea that people are
part of a large universe. Appealing to diverse learning styles – auditory, verbal and kinesthetic – they
created a wide variety of experiences every day based on literature, music, art, math, and technology,
including frequent interaction with Google Earth, through which students could ask questions and explore
For example, investigating the unique characteristics of each planet through an abundance of age-appropriate
literature provided a solid foundation of facts and insights that triggered students' curiosity.
Journeying through the solar system from planet to planet, students' fascination was nurtured through
their love for music and rhyme as teachers added a verse about each planet to the song, "The Family of
the Sun," sung to the tune of "The Farmer in the Dell." Art projects provided a tactile way to focus on the
concept of space exploration and included rocket ship collages that also gave students the opportunity to
learn about shapes and colors. And all of the excitement and new knowledge served as a springboard for
the introduction of new mathematical concepts.
|As part of their culminating activity for their unit on outer space, PreK3 students pretended they were
astronauts on a mission as they watched a model rocket soar into the sky.
"Once we learned about the different planets, we could do a lot of comparing and contrasting, identifying
similarities and differences," said Ms. White, "such as which planets have clouds, which planets can
sustain life, in addition to comparing sizes."
The culminating activity for the unit capitalized on the greatest strength of three and four-year olds, their
imaginations. To conclude their space investigations, students donned astronaut attire, including soda
bottle oxygen tanks and paraded around the campus before "blasting off" on a mission into space. They
witnessed a model rocket launch and then participated in a number of playful, developmental centers
designed to create a fun and enduring memory.
According to Ms. Gucciardi, applying thematic units of study in the classroom such as outer space
enables teachers to integrate every academic discipline. "Thematic units give you a focal point around
which you can embed all the important concepts you want to get across," she said. "Outer space is
something preschoolers naturally latch onto so it makes learning exciting and engaging."
At the end of the unit, students impressed their teachers with the depth of information about the solar
system they exhibited during a final assessment. What teachers say was most valuable, however, was the
joy and wonder about the universe the PreK3ers experienced throughout the learning process.
"If you want to nurture a child's innate sense of wonder, what better place to go than outer space?" said
Ms. Bronson. "Nourishing that natural wonder sparks new curiosity and questions and the desire to know
more. It's what leads to a lifelong love of learning."