Teachable moments are opportunities to learn that arise from real-life experiences. They are valuable because they make learning more engaging and relevant and can help to spark curiosity and passion for science in children.
Recognizing and utilizing teachable moments can be easier than you think. By being open to unexpected learning opportunities, asking questions, and taking time to explore and experiment parents can help their children to discover the wonders of science in their everyday lives.
There are many different examples of teachable moments in science that parents can use to engage children, from observing ants and their habitat to discussing climate change. By using these real-life experiences as a starting point, adults can help children to develop critical thinking skills and a love of science that will last a lifetime.
Keep reading to learn how you can leverage these moments to inspire the next generation of scientists!
Five Facts About Teachable Moments in Science for parents:
✅ Teachable moments in science can arise from everyday life situations, like when a child observes a tree dying and asks questions about lifecycles, notices that some seeds sprout faster than others, or asks why we have to drink water even though juice may taste better. They're all around us every single day if we notice.
✅ Parents can harness teachable moments to integrate more learning into the existing day-to-day hustle and children gain deeper insights into different areas of science in a pressure-free-moment.
✅ Teachable moments can be used to teach your child about important scientific concepts, like climate change, and motivate them to explore different perspectives on scientific issues that impact their future.
✅ Remember that great teachers and parents alike are open to following your child’s curiosity when teachable moments arise and use the opportunities to maximize effective learning.
✅ Teachable moments allow parents to pass along unplanned but potentially very impactful information to their kids and help build their self-confidence as independent learners.
What are Teachable Moments?
Teachable moments are all around us — in our homes, schools, and communities. But what are they exactly? Put simply, they are instances where an unexpected event or situation creates an opportunity to learn. These spontaneous teaching moments are incredibly valuable and can make a lasting impact on a child’s education journey.
These moments allow people to actively pursue their education through exploration, observation and critical thinking, rather than retaining information they may not fully comprehend. By inspiring curiosity in this way, teachable moments offer more practical and authentic means for learners to engage with the world around them.
While each teachable moment is unique in its own right, some common characteristics may include a break from routine and structure; an enquiring kid asking challenging questions or perhaps an interruption to the routine caused by external factors like drastic weather changes or environmental stimuli.
Importance of Teachable Moments in Learning
Utilizing teachable moments helps bridge the gap between theoretical "classroom learning" and real-life applications. It allows children to see how what they learn in lessons can apply to their everyday lives. Kids are also able to learn at their own pace, making connections between concepts as they arise naturally and without unnecessary pressure. By recognizing and seizing teachable moments, parents can make a meaningful impact on their kids' learning journey.
How to Recognize and Utilize Teachable Moments
Valuable teaching moments can take place at any time, be it inside or outside the home. Capitalizing on these "sparks" provides some of the best lessons since kids are already invested in the experience. These fleeting glimpses may be brief, but they're often quite powerful for both parents and our little learners alike.
It's all about seizing teachable moments when they arise.
When kids show interest, or ask questions, these are good indicators that a teachable moment is just around the corner. (Yes, the 500th question may be just as valuable as the first, no matter how exhausted you might feel after cooking supper, sorry!)
Parents should pause and explore further with questions that build upon enthusiasm and learning by using meta-cognitive prompts like "what if?" Or "how might we?"
To Create a Teachable Moment
A unique approach parents can use when creating teachable moments is by immersing their kids into topics that are relevant within their daily lives on a personal level.
For example, using popular TV show clips related to science concepts can help build excitement, leading learners into deeper analysis of scientific phenomena.
The tv shows would have to be selected based on each childs' interests, age, and the scientific concept you're teaching. The show Blaze and the Monster Machines has been wildly successful in our home for getting our young children naturally exploring tons of scientific concepts like physics, simple machines, basic math, and more.
If you've got kids 2-8 years old, they might just love this high-quality kids' educational show as much as we do. Check out an episode here:
10 Real-Life Examples of Teachable Moments
In this section, we will explore 10 teachable moments in science that are sure to get your kids curious. Each of these examples has been carefully selected to spark your childs' interest in science and encourage them to ask questions.
Example 1: Observing Ants and their Habitat
Ant observation is a classic and intuitive way to teach young learners how to observe scientific phenomena. By prompting them with questions, kids can understand the scientific method while observing first-hand the behaviors that ants display in their natural habitat.
4-Step Guide for Understanding Ants and Their Habitat
Study and collect: Outdoors or indoors, find an active colony near grass, trees or plants. Using a collecting jar, scoop a small amount of soil containing ant eggs from the ground in small terrariums or containers.
Analysis of habitat: Encourage children to notice the characteristics of ant colonies such as tunnels, mounds or food storage areas.
Observation and recording: Through interaction with their environment, kids should observe how ants work together to build homes for themselves. Record observations about the ants' behavior patterns.
Feeding basic needs: Provide ants with food like sugar water drops in small dishes.
Ants have complex social structures with varied roles based on factors such as age and strength. Observe different types of ants performing unique roles within the colony.
Reflect on this: Teachable moments can bend the light of understanding towards refraction.🤭
Example 2: Exploring Reflection and Refraction
Exploring Reflection and Refraction is a neat topic that requires discovery and analysis. Understanding what happens when light interacts with different surfaces is an important part of understand nature.
One example of exploring reflection and refraction may be observing how a beam of light reflects off different surfaces or passes through various materials. Through this, learners will understand how lenses work, why mirrors reflect objects differently and other aspects of optics.
Some people might want to teach their kids about reflection and refraction using a homemade shadow puppet theater made from cardboard boxes with a flashlight as the light source.
For another idea, show them this 3 minute educational video on light absorption, reflection, and refraction:
Or teach your kids how light makes rainbows with fun hands-on activities:
Kids are often able to better understand these concepts after seeing them in action through activities like this.
Example 3: Dissecting a Flower
Parents need to identify the type and species of the flower(s) before dissection in order to best explain the anatomy and characteristics. There's plenty of resources available to help you look like a pro identifying and dissecting flowers with your child. For example: bioexplorer.net, Scientific American, PlantSnap, Sciencing, etc.
Cut open the different layers of the flower using scissors or a knife if the children in question are old enough to safely use one.
Use tweezers and a magnifying glass to examine each part in detail.
Feel free to take pictures of different parts of the process and have your kids use them to create a piece of flower anatomy art- furthering the memorization process and promoting the fun of learning organically.
Taking apart a plant can be messy, yet exciting for kids as it gives them an opportunity to learn about its unique features. It can also assist them in understanding how pollination takes place within flowers.
Example 4: Exploring Properties of Water
Here are some examples of teachable moments at home for parents to explore the properties of water with their kids while encouraging a love of science:
Sink or Float Experiment: Fill a basin or container with water and gather various objects from around the house. Encourage your kids to predict whether each item will sink or float in water. Then, let them test their predictions by placing the objects in the water and observing the results. Discuss the concept of density and how it relates to the buoyancy of objects.
Water Absorption: Provide different materials like paper towels, sponges, fabric, and plastic. Ask your kids to predict which materials will absorb water the best. Then, conduct an experiment by placing each material in a shallow dish of water and observing how much water they absorb. Discuss the properties of water absorption and the role of porosity in different materials.
Water Surface Tension: Fill a small bowl or cup with water and invite your kids to carefully place small objects (such as paperclips, coins, or small pieces of paper) on the water's surface. Discuss why the objects float on the water and how surface tension enables this phenomenon. You can even challenge them to experiment with different objects and observe if the surface tension changes.
Check out our "magic milk" surface tension science experiment for kids here:
Melting Ice: Take an ice cube and discuss with your kids what happens when it is left at room temperature. Have them make predictions about the ice cube's fate. Observe the melting process together and discuss why the ice turns into water. You can also compare the density of ice and water, explaining why ice floats.
Water's States of Matter: Explore the different states of water—solid, liquid, and gas. Let your kids observe how water freezes into ice cubes in the freezer, melts when left at room temperature, and evaporates when heated. Discuss the changes in molecular structure and energy that occur during these state transitions.
Water Mixing: Experiment with mixing water and different substances like salt, sugar, food coloring, or oil. Observe how each substance behaves when added to water. Discuss concepts like solubility, dissolving, and the unique properties of water as a universal solvent.
Remember to engage in discussions, ask open-ended questions, and encourage your kids to make predictions and share their observations during these teachable moments. By fostering their curiosity and exploration, you can ignite a love of science and a deeper understanding of the properties of water.
In the table below, some of the unique properties of water are listed along with a brief explanation of each property:
|Cohesion and Adhesion||Water molecules stick to each other and to other substances.|
|Surface Tension||The skin-like layer that forms on the surface of water due to cohesive forces between molecules.|
|Capillary Action||The ability of water to flow upward against gravity in narrow tubes or porous materials.|
|Density||Water is denser as a liquid than as a solid, allowing ice to float.|
|Universal Solvent||Many substances dissolve well in water due to its polarity.|
A real-life example you could use to teach your children the importance of water properties and human health is the story of the Flint Water Crisis.
Here, lead and other contaminants from old pipes entered the drinking supply, highlighting the importance of understanding water chemistry and its interaction with different materials.
Listen up, because investigating sound is a teachable moment you don't want to miss.
Example 5: Investigating Sound
Here are some real-life examples of how parents can create and/or identify teachable moments to explore the science of sound:
Sound Walk: During walks or outings, encourage children to pay attention to the sounds around them. Point out different sounds such as birds chirping, cars honking, or leaves rustling. Discuss the sources of these sounds and how they travel through the air to reach our ears.
Musical Exploration: Engage children in musical activities using simple instruments like drums, shakers, or xylophones. Help them understand that sound is created when objects vibrate, and these vibrations travel through the air as sound waves. Encourage them to explore different sounds by varying the intensity or speed of their actions.
Body Percussion: Teach children about sound production using their own bodies. Clap hands, stomp feet, or snap fingers, and discuss how vibrations are created. Explain that our ears detect these vibrations as sound. Encourage them to experiment with different body movements and observe the resulting sounds.
Sound Sorting: Collect a variety of objects that produce different sounds, like keys, bells, or rattles. Ask children to listen carefully and sort the objects based on similar sounds or characteristics. Discuss the factors that contribute to the differences in sound, like size, shape, or material.
DIY Sound Experiments:
Conduct simple sound experiments using everyday items. For example, stretch a rubber band around a container and pluck it to hear different pitches.
Use cups and string to create a telephone system and explore how sound travels through vibrations along the string.
Sound Absorption: Discuss the concept of sound absorption by observing different materials' effects on sound. Use cushions, towels, blankets, or pillows to create a makeshift sound-absorbing object. Then try to speak loudly through the materials and observe the difference in sound volume, distortion, and/or echo.
Storytime with Sound Effects: Choose a storybook that incorporates sound effects or onomatopoeic words (i.e. clap, pop, hiss, beep, etc). Read the story aloud, emphasizing the sound-related words and accompanying them with appropriate sounds while encouraging your kids to join in. Discuss how the words help create mental images and enhance the storytelling experience.
Encourage children to ask questions, make observations, and engage in hands-on activities to deepen their understanding of the science of sound. Foster their curiosity and provide opportunities for them to explore and experiment with different sounds and vibrations in their everyday lives.
|Sound Walk||Taking a walk outside while listening to sounds, identifying sources, and discussing loudness and frequencies.|
|Make Your Own Instrument||Constructing instruments like guitars, drums, or flutes while exploring sound vibrations using simple materials such as rubber bands, paper towel tubes.|
|Visualizing Sound Waves||Experimenting with cornstarch or salt textured surfaces placed over a speaker producing different frequencies causes visualized moving patterns illustrating the movement of sound waves.|
Example 6: Examining the Human Body
Investigating the Human Anatomy is another perfect example of the teachable moments in science. In this example, learners get to explore the structure and functions of human organs through hands-on activities.
X-ray Fun: Use x-ray images or printouts to introduce children to the skeletal system. Discuss the role of bones in providing support, protection, and movement. Encourage them to identify major bones and learn their names.
Our kids enjoy this level 2 Step into Reading book titled "Bones":
Body Systems: Introduce children to the different systems of the body, like the circulatory, respiratory, digestive, and nervous systems. Use age-appropriate resources, diagrams, or models to explain how these systems work together to keep the body functioning.
Body Movements: Engage children in physical activities that demonstrate how different muscles work together to produce movements. Encourage them to identify different muscle groups and discuss their roles in activities like walking, jumping, or throwing.
Nutrition Exploration: Involve children in meal planning or grocery shopping activities. Discuss the importance of a balanced diet and how different nutrients support the body's growth and development.
First Aid Basics: Teach children basic first aid skills such as cleaning a wound, applying a bandage, or recognizing common symptoms like fever or cough. Discuss the importance of seeking help from adults or medical professionals when needed.
Pro Tip: To make human anatomy more interesting for young learners, keep it relevant with real-world applications like sports injuries or illnesses they have experienced in their lives.
Get ready to see, hear, smell, taste, and touch science in action in Example 7: Exploring the Five Senses.
Example 7: Exploring the Five Senses
Through science, children can learn about the five senses through different learning experiences. Science education can promote curiosity and critical thinking in kids as they explore their environment using their five senses.
An example of teaching the five senses is pointing out activities that help kids understand how taste, smell, touch, sight, and sound work. You may have already done this unintentionally when you passed on the shocking not-so-secret secret that onions and apples taste the same without a sense of smell to separate them! 🤯
Smell It Game
As an illustration of exploring the five senses, parents could present several objects that have strong odors or aromas such as coffee beans or spices. The goal is to identify each scent and its intensity by smelling them individually. Once they have gone through all the items with different smells, ask them to create a list of adjectives describing each aroma. After that exercise is complete, challenge them to repeat it with different scents.
Pro Tip: Encourage kids to have a sense-resting period after the first round so that they can stay focused on exploring another set of scents during the next session.
This 1.5 minute Kiboomers Kids video on the five senses teaches a simple song that's easy for little kids to remember when they're just learning about the five senses.
Example 8: Studying the Life Cycle of Plants
Studying the life cycle of plants is a fascinating teachable moment for children to explore. With hands-on activities like gardening and growing seeds, observing plant growth, and examining different parts of plants, children can learn about photosynthesis, germination, pollination and much more. This can be an opportunity to discuss conservation efforts to protect and promote healthy flora too.
Children can witness the miracle of plant growth firsthand. They can gain knowledge on the life stages of plants through observation and conducting experiments that simulate natural processes like pollination. By taking an active role in nurturing their own plants from seedlings, children become invested in learning about how different factors - such as water availability or light - affect plant growth.
In addition to identifying different types of plants and observing them throughout various stages of their life cycles, children can also discover unique characteristics that certain species possess.
For instance, some plants grow edible fruits or herbs that humans have been relying on for millennia.
Children may also learn about the mutual relationships between certain plants and insects, leading them to comprehend more in-depth concepts like symbiosis.
Pro Tip: Build upon your kids' newfound fascination with botany by integrating discussions around environmental impact into life cycle lessons. This offers them insight into how they themselves play critical roles in preserving our planet's delicate ecosystems - particularly with regard to maintaining biodiversity among all living things including flora!
Example 9: Experimenting with Chemical Reactions
Chemical Reactions are complex and essential processes that occur in nature, and teaching children about these phenomena is an excellent way to foster curiosity and deepen their understanding of science.
Introduce the topic by explaining what chemical reactions are and how they differ from physical reactions.
Explain that chemical reactions and physical reactions are both ways that substances can change, but they happen in different ways.
A chemical reaction is a process where one or more substances change into completely new substances with different properties. It's like a transformation or a "chemical makeover."
|Chemical Reaction||A process where one or more substances change into completely new substances with different properties. During a chemical reaction, the atoms in the substances rearrange themselves, forming new bonds and breaking old ones. This rearrangement creates new molecules with different properties from the original substances.|
|Example||When baking soda is mixed with vinegar, a bubbling and fizzing reaction occurs. The baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and vinegar (acetic acid) react together to produce carbon dioxide gas, water, and a new substance called sodium acetate. These new substances have different properties than the baking soda and vinegar you started with.|
|Physical Reaction||A change in the appearance or state of a substance without forming new substances. It involves a change in the way something looks or behaves, but the atoms in the substance remain the same.|
|Examples||- Melting ice into water: The substance changes from a solid (ice) to a liquid (water) state without forming new substances.|
|- Breaking a pencil into pieces: The pencil remains the same material (graphite and wood) but is physically separated into smaller parts.|
|- Changing the shape of clay: The clay retains its composition but is molded into a different form or shape.|
Basically, chemical reactions involve the formation of entirely new substances with different properties, while physical reactions involve changes in appearance or state without forming new substances.
Pro tip: Chemical reactions are like a "makeover" that creates something completely new, while physical reactions are more like a change in appearance or behavior.
Experiments for Teachable Moments Related to Chemical Reactions
Baking Soda and Vinegar Volcano: Create a classic baking soda and vinegar volcano by placing a small container or plastic bottle in a bowl, cup, or basin. Add baking soda to the container and pour vinegar over it. Observe the fizzy reaction that occurs as the two substances combine. Discuss the chemical reaction between the baking soda and vinegar, which produces carbon dioxide gas.
Lemon Battery: Cut a small slit in a lemon and insert a copper coin and a zinc-coated nail into the fruit. Connect a wire from the coin to the nail and observe if any changes occur, like a small LED light bulb lighting up or a buzzer sounding. Discuss how the citric acid in the lemon acts as an electrolyte, enabling a chemical reaction to produce a small electric current.
Milk and Soap Magic: Pour milk into a shallow dish and add a few drops of different colored food coloring. Dip a cotton swab or toothpick into liquid dish soap and gently touch it to the surface of the milk. Observe the swirling patterns and colors that form. Explain how the soap molecules interact with the fats in the milk, causing the movement and dispersion of the colors.
Rusty Pennies: Gather a few old pennies that appear dull and tarnished. Create a solution of vinegar and salt in a small bowl. Place the pennies in the solution and leave them for a few minutes. Observe how the solution removes the tarnish and restores the shine on the pennies. Discuss how the vinegar and salt react with the copper oxide on the surface of the pennies, resulting in the cleaner appearance.
This video demonstrates the experiment of cleaning old pennies with 8 different liquids to see which works best. It's not specifically made for children, but there's nothing inappropriate for children to watch:
Baking Powder and Water Balloon Inflation: Take an empty water balloon and fill it with a small amount of baking powder. Attach the balloon securely to the top of a plastic bottle containing water. Lift the balloon to allow the baking powder to fall into the water. Observe as the gas produced by the chemical reaction causes the balloon to inflate. Discuss how the combination of baking powder and water produces carbon dioxide gas, which fills the balloon.
Teachable moment alert: discussing the controversial topic of climate change with your kids can spark their curiosity and critical thinking skills!
Example 10: Discussing Climate Change
Parents can use real-life examples and practical activities to help children learn about climate change, like examining how rising temperatures affect sea levels, weather patterns, and ecosystems. Maybe they've noticed your winters getting more or less snow than usual, summers getting hotter and dryer, or draughts causing food shortages in certain areas. Even if they're too young to have noticed those things on their own, you can still start teaching about this topics in ways they can related to.
Make Observations: Encourage children to observe changes in the environment. During walks or outings, point out changes like temperature fluctuations, weather patterns, or seasonal variations. Use these observations as opportunities to discuss how these changes are related to climate and its impact on the planet.
Conservation Practices: Teach children simple conservation practices like turning off lights when not needed, conserving water while brushing teeth, or reusing and recycling items. Explain how these actions contribute to protecting the environment and reducing our impact on climate change.
Gardening and Plant Care: Involve children in gardening. Discuss the importance of plants for clean air, carbon dioxide absorption, pollination, and reducing the effects of climate change. Explain how taking care of plants helps in mitigating climate change and preserving biodiversity.
Energy Awareness: Talk about energy-saving practices. Show them how appliances and electronics consume energy and discuss ways to conserve it, like turning off computers when not in use or unplugging phone chargers that aren't in use. Encourage them to participate in turning off unused devices or adjusting thermostat settings. Explain how these actions reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote a healthier environment.
Recycling and Waste Management: Teach children about the importance of recycling and proper waste disposal. Explain how recycling conserves resources, reduces the need for landfills, and minimizes pollution, which can contribute to climate change. Involve them in sorting recyclables and discuss the impact of their actions like filling water bottles at home instead of buying plastic disposable water bottles, donating clothes that have been grown out of, or composting fruit and veggie scraps.
Climate-friendly Choices: Encourage children to make climate-friendly choices in their daily lives. Discuss the benefits of walking or biking instead of driving short distances, using reusable water bottles instead of single-use plastics, or choosing locally sourced foods. Explain how these choices contribute to reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment.
Books and Media: Utilize age-appropriate books, videos, and documentaries that explain climate change in a simplified manner. Engage children in discussions after reading or watching, allowing them to ask questions and share their thoughts on the topic.
Teachable Moments: Seize teachable moments related to climate change, like extreme weather events or discussions about nature and animals. Use these moments to explain the connection to climate change and how it impacts ecosystems and habitats.
Remember to tailor the explanations to a child's age and understanding. Keep the discussions positive, emphasizing how individuals can make a difference in combating climate change. Encourage their curiosity, questions, and ideas to foster a sense of responsibility towards the environment and a desire to take action.
By discussing the effects of emissions on the environment and participating in simulations on carbon footprint reduction, kids gain an understanding of what drives these changes and how collective action can make a difference.
This aims to inspire long-term thinking about sustainable practices among kids while also making them aware of their own role in contributing to a safer world.
For More Fun While Learning Have Your family Do The "Earth Day Challenge":
Making mistakes and learning from them helps in the discovery process, which is a crucial component of scientific exploration. By practicing the scientific method, children can approach challenges with a positive attitude and curiosity.
Comfort any distressed kids struggling with the disappointment of unexpected results, but make sure they understand that there's really no way to fail at experimenting, and the fun comes from learning not "perfection."
Additionally, these moments are an excellent opportunity for kids to develop problem-solving abilities and critical thinking skills.
Teachable moments provide valuable opportunities for parents to engage their children in science and ignite their curiosity. By recognizing and utilizing these moments, parents can make learning more enjoyable and relevant.
From observing ants and exploring the properties of water to dissecting flowers and discussing climate change, there are countless real-life examples that can inspire a love of science in children.
By embracing teachable moments, parents can help their children develop critical thinking skills and a lifelong passion for scientific inquiry!
Questions and Answers About 10 Teachable Moments That Will Get Them Curious About Science
Why are teachable moments important?
Teachable moments are important because they allow for spontaneous learning opportunities and can help children gain meaningful insights into different areas of the classroom and life. They also help increase self-confidence and encourage independent learning.
What is a Montessori teachable moment?
A Montessori teachable moment is when a child is most receptive to taking in new information about something they are interested in. This can happen during academic lessons or everyday life situations, and can inspire children to keep asking questions and motivate them to apply their understanding in different ways.
How can parents teach at home using teachable moments?
Parents can teach at home using teachable moments by being on the lookout for these opportunities and being flexible with their lesson plans. They can encourage exploration and curiosity in their children and use mistakes as important teachable moments.
Why is it important to encourage children to be curious about science?
Encouraging children to be curious about science can help them develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills, as well as a deeper understanding of the world around them. It can also inspire them to pursue careers in science-related fields and make important contributions to society.
How can embracing teachable moments and positive parenting benefit children?
Embracing teachable moments and positive parenting can benefit children by fostering a love of learning, increasing self-confidence and independence, and promoting curiosity and exploration. This can lead to a lifelong love of learning and success in both academic and personal pursuits.