Weather Forecasting: Learning Through Play
After watching a weather forecast on television my children wanted to know why the weather changes and why the presenter was saying that it has been unusually hot for this time of year. This prompted a whole week of short activities aimed at helping them better understand these curiosities.
Asking questions is one of the best ways children can learn to make sense of the world around them. They are born with an innate curiosity which helps them to understand the unknown, make connections and grow their vocabulary. As a teacher and a parent, I believe how we choose to answer these questions has a huge impact on their attitude to learning and their desire to find out more. If they are interested enough to ask about something, then they'll likely be motivated to learn the answer. Of course, there are times when a BIG question is asked right before bedtime (more often as a way to delay the inevitable!) or a question is so unexpected that it has me flummoxed, but generally, I try to answer questions as immediately as I can. Sometimes I may not know the answer or know quite how to explain it in a way that my children will understand, but I am always honest in these situations and tell them I will find out (or ask their father!).
My children are aged three and five so I knew my answers to their weather-related questions needed to be simple enough for them to understand at their level. They haven't really ever learnt anything about the weather before other than what they've directly experienced by being caught in a rain shower, storm or heatwave.
We started our week by going on a nature walk. We lay down in a field and looked up at the sky, gazing at the different shaped clouds and colours. Or, at least that was the plan! Turns out, when we arrived in our ideal viewing spot and looked up, there wasn't a cloud in the sky! No matter, instead we listed all the different types of weather we could think of and created a bank of questions that they wanted to find out about during the week. When we got home we found a book with a double-page spread showing the different types of cloud formations. We looked at it briefly before I invited them to have a go at painting them. I provided a variety of different tools for them to choose from: cotton wool, string, straw, wooden skewers, paintbrushes and sponges.
This activity involved them making choices, using careful observation skills, fine motor skills and rich descriptive language as they described what they were doing with each tool.
Giving children choice is a great way of keeping them motivated and engaged and allowed them to explore the tools in various ways. Yes, I wanted them to learn about the clouds but I wasn't prescriptive in HOW they did it. In their eyes, they were having fun painting. Also, because I encouraged them to paint directly onto the tray rather than the more expected small piece of paper, they were motivated to give it a go right from the start. Unexpected situations or variations on
usual activities can be really effective in sustaining a child's attention.
Next, we completed a couple of simple science experiments to introduce the water cycle. The first involved putting water in a sandwich bag and taping it to a window to demonstrate evaporation and condensation.
The second gave the kids the opportunity to use their pincer grip to drop water onto a ball of cotton wool using a pipette. When the cotton wool was saturated it appeared to rain inside the jar.
On Tuesday, we talked about the wind. I used this as an opportunity to introduce the Beaufort Scale and how wind speeds are measured. Again, we went outside and looked around us to identify how strong the breeze was. Using real-life observable phenomenon makes more sense to children. Whenever possible I always like to start with something tangible that they can see, smell, touch, hear or taste. To measure the wind we created our own wind mobiles. This was a good excuse to pick up a pencil and work on their fine motor control and coordination. They first drew a spiral ("like a snail's shell" my son remembered) which was an activity we did a couple of week's ago when they had suddenly become fascinated with snails! Afterwards, they cut along the line they had drawn so that they had a mobile which they could hang up in the garden and watch to see it move in the breeze. Using scissors in this way is great for the muscles in the hand as well as for developing hand-eye coordination and bilateral coordination (their left and right hand are having to work simultaneously).
This led on to talk of hurricanes, what they were and how they are very rare in the UK. I mentioned the famous weather broadcaster, Michael Fish and how he once famously said there wouldn't be a hurricane when actually there was! We found the clip online and then spotted the differences between the weather forecast then and now. Having seen their enthusiasm when watching the weather presenters I asked them if they'd like to pretend to be one themselves! Their excitement was evident straight away so Wednesday was spent making a television video camera. I found an image of a camera online and they raided our junk modelling box to find the different shapes they needed to copy it. This was a great way to recap the name of the 3D shapes.
Next, we used glue and water to papier-mache the outside so we could paint it black. My daughter previously did not want to do paper-mache as she didn't like the sensory feel of the soggy paper so this time I gave them paintbrushes to use instead. It worked a treat and actually, before long she had ditched the brush and was using her hands anyway!
On Thursday, I drew the outline of the UK (sorry Ireland, I ran out of space!) onto a large piece of cardboard. We used sponges and brushes to paint it together. While painting we talked about the different countries in the UK and remembered holidays that we’d taken to different places. It was a lovely opportunity to talk about how we are all feeling at the moment.
While it was all drying, we printed and cut the weather symbols (these were from Twinkl) and the children used my laptop to make the number cards. We created three groups of similar temperatures, one near freezing, one in the teens and another to represent hot weather. This provided the opportunity for my son to identify and recall numbers and my daughter to apply her knowledge of numbers to real-life experiences. To help them understand what these temperatures felt like we gathered lots of different items of clothing and then they got dressed in whatever was appropriate for the weather condition and temperature that I said. This was a great way to practise dressing skills without them realising they were learning!
On Friday, we watched a couple more weather forecasts on YouTube so that we could listen to the language that the presenters used and then take turns to mimic them. Whoever wasn't presenting was the camera operator, giving instructions of where they should stand to be 'in shot'. It was a good way to learn to take turns, listen and cooperate. It's been a really fun week. Alongside these adult-led activities, there have also been plenty of opportunities for independent play too which I feel is equally important. The map and camera will now be left in the playroom so that the children can independently play with them whenever they want to. Having modelled it together and had fun, they’ve already asked it to become a permanent feature on the wall!
I truly believe that young children learn best when they are allowed to follow their interests and play. This is the basis of my company Busy Brains Activity Packs. I believe learning should be the by-product of having fun, not a chore. I hope this blog has inspired you with some ideas. Any one of these activities could be done in isolation so don't feel that you have to do our whole week. My advice would always be to start with your child's interests and take it from there. If you haven't already, do sign up to my mailing list (scroll to the bottom of the homepage) so you can be given access to the latest information, news and an exclusive activity area on my website.