By AnnaMaria Paruk
Here at the Burke Museum, we created two preschool programs for the Port Angeles and Royal City areas that included classroom visits, parent training, teacher training, and family events. While we are not finished with our programming, we wanted to develop something that could last between our visits — something that would allow preschoolers to explore their world with their parents, without us having to physically be there.
BOOM! Our Backyard Scientist Backpacks were born!
Many places have kits, but we wanted to do something that would be unique to the Burke and to our project. Here at the Burke we have access to museum collections that we thought would be fun to include in the kits. So, we created a kit full of scientific tools, scientific specimens, and ideas for parents on how to use everything.
In our parent training sessions, we stressed the importance of practicing the scientific process with their kids. This process, we explained, includes making observations, asking questions, and discussing findings. One such method of practicing the process is to ask open-ended questions where there is no right or wrong answer. These questions help to facilitate conversations about the “why?” and the “what do you think?” of the world. Since we had spent some time in our training on the open-ended questions, we wanted to make sure we somehow included this element into the kits. In order to do so, we created our Inquiry Cards, which are examples of open-ended questions divided up into four categories based on different situations: Outside, Story Time, Arts and Crafts, and General.
Fun fact: The idea for including open-ended questions into our kits was based off the work of another Thrive Washington grantee, the Chinese Information and Services Center.
When we held our training in Royal City about these packs, we stressed the idea that there is not just one way to use these kits. The overall goal of our Backyard Scientist Backpacks is to provide materials with which kids and their parents can continue science exploration outside of the classroom. As long as you are talking with and spending time with your kids, we explained, then you are doing it right! But, we did want to provide some guidance for those parents who like suggestions, so we created different “walks” to do with kids while using the provided scientific tools in the kits. These walks are all about exploring the world around you and comparing and making observations.
Another idea that we included as a possible activity is to create your own “lookers” before you begin exploring; it’s an idea inspired by “The Looking Book” by P.K. Hallinan. In this book, the main character just wants to watch television and sit inside all day. His mom gives him a pair of glasses with the lenses missing (his own “lookers”) to help him explore the world and see things like he never has before. We included both the book and a template of how to create your own “lookers” to aid in your exploration!
The kits will live at one of our host sites for a couple of weeks before moving to another site. We are excited about these kits and hope you are too!