The Sciencenter's Quarterly Education Newsletter
Communication at Every Age
Developing Executive Function
Communication is one of the most important skills that people develop in their lives. Ellen Galinsky, author of Mind in the Making, defines the act of communicating as "much more than understanding language, speaking, reading, and writing -- it is the skill of determining what we want to communicate and realizing how our communications will be understood by others."
What does communication look like in your child's life? If you interact with infants, you may notice that the focus of their gaze signals items that they are interested in, while toddlers make larger gestures such as pointing to what they are interested in. Adults who notice these styles of body language can hold conversations with non-verbal children by talking about what they point to or look at. By preschool, children begin to use language to express themselves and benefit from hearing rich vocabulary and being involved in storytelling activities. Elementary age children build on their communication skills through interactive play and creating art.
According to Galinsky, "complex communication skills begin at home." Studies have shown that children who are raised in verbally rich environments are better equipped to articulate their feelings and connect with others than their less verbally enriched peers. Playing games like Apples to Apples® or Charades are fun ways to explore communication with people of all ages -- even adults! And when reading stories in the classroom or at home, try to communicate beyond what is written in the pages. What do you notice together? What extra questions do you have about the events in the story? How do you think the characters feel? This is a great opportunity to introduce new vocabulary words as well. Here are some other creative ways to help build communication skills in children of any age.
Practice communication at these Sciencenter exhibits:
- The Whisper Dish on the Science Playground
- Raven and the Scream Chamber in the second floor gallery
- Use "science talk" techniques in the Discovery Space
Science for All Ages
How children learn about the world around them
Early Explorers (ages 0 - 5)
The Building Blocks of Communication
It is never too early to start communicating with children. Did you know that early communication and block play supports strong math skills in later years? Using directional language, such as
"above," "below," and "beside,"
while exploring blocks and puzzles, helps children build their spatial awareness.
that spatial exploration and confidence are directly connected to success in math when children reach elementary school.
Marianella Casasola, the director of the
Cornell Infant Studies Laboratory
and one of our partners, studies cognitive and language development in infants by observing how children form spatial understanding. Students from the Lab visit the Sciencenter's Family Learning Area every week and provide opportunities for children and their families to engage in research while talking about the importance of communicating through play with blocks and puzzles.
Simon Says is another
that you can use to promote communication skills in toddlers. Watch as the Sciencenter's education team demonstrates different variations of this classic game.
Young Scientists (ages 5 - 11)
Meet a Real Scientist
Every weekend at the Sciencenter, museum guests learn about topics ranging from animal behavior to robot development, and more at live Showtime! presentations. Many of these presentations are conducted by real life scientists from the Ithaca community. For Sciencenter guests, this is an opportunity to communicate with professional scientists about current research, ask questions, and perhaps imagine what it would be like to
be a scientist. For our Showtime! presenters, it is an opportunity to showcase their work within the community and share research with a public audience. To assist our Showtime! presenters who may have never presented to children and families, we share ideas for creative communication and engaging ways to present information such as conducting age-appropriate hands-on activities, providing opportunities for audience involvement or feedback, and providing takeaway projects that can be done at home. Among our Showtime! presenters are the Cornell Microgravity Team, the Space and Planetary Imaging Facility, and the Ithaca High School Code Red Robotics team.
Improvisational exercises like these from
help empower educators to facilitate interactive and positive learning conversations with students. For example,
learn how to ask engaging questions
that encourage deeper learning and strong communication skills.
Future Science Leaders (ages 11 - 14)
Learning how to communicate science concepts is equally as important as learning science content. A great way to work on both of these skills with middle school students is through citizen science projects. Citizen science introduces the general public to scientific research by allowing amateurs to collect, analyze, and report scientific data to professional scientists who study larger phenomena. Here at the Sciencenter, we take citizen science projects to a new level by inviting museum guests to join our middle school Future Science Leaders in the collection and analysis of data from our neighboring Cascadilla Creek throughout the summer months. Our Future Science Leaders explain the tests they are running and why they're important, interpret the results, and then analyze the results with Sciencenter guests as young as 3 and older.
Check out some of these citizen science projects, such as "Project Budburst" or "Tomatosphere," that you can do with your middle school students. Encourage them to communicate their process and results with others beyond the classroom!
Collaborative for Early Science Learning:
A Sciencenter-led partnership of museum professionals working with Head Start
Proper communication is essential when introducing new information and topics to children 4 and under. The concept of "science talk" is an excellent tool to implement when introducing science exploration to families with young children. To enhance children's natural curiosity, ask open-ended questions, such as "what do you think will happen if...?" or "why do you think...?" during science activities. These types of questions encourage children to naturally start working through the scientific process of making observations, exploring, making predictions, and problem solving.
Using "science talk" also helps to encourage children to explore the world around them through a scientific lens. Parents, caregivers, and teachers should be deliberate in the words they are using when talking to children since this is a great time to introduce new vocabulary. For example, if a child is involved in a water activity use the words "float" or "sink" and "heavy" or "light." Science talk also incorporates math and literacy skills which makes this is a great tool for educators to incorporate into classrooms.
See science talk in action
and learn about creative ways to use it in the video below from
Peep and the Big Wide World
The Collaborative for Early Science Learning was made possible in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
How does language develop?
While this is a complex topic with many facets that scientists are still working to discover, there is a lot of current research on how language develops. Infants are primed and ready to learn language long before they can speak. By the time they are born, their brains are wired for the action of listening to adults speak. Dr. Patricia Kuhl, from the Institute for Learning and Brain Science at the University of Washington, researches early language and brain development, and has presented a TED Talk so that we can learn more. Take a look into the science behind language development.
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Send it to us
and we will choose one question to answer in our next issue!