Science is a special subject at The School in Rose Valley, taught to all children from the 5-day Preschool and up, at least once a week, by a specialist teacher. Science study also occurs in other classrooms and is integrated as much as possible into other areas of the curriculum.
The Science Room at The School in Rose Valley is literally teeming with the tools and artifacts of scientists. Like all great laboratories, it is cluttered, a little messy, and richly furnished and equipped. It is also child-centered and friendly, inviting and allowing for free exploration, active learning, and wondering.
A please touch and explore table, low enough for three year olds, holds many objects and tools for curious children to touch, examine, and manipulate. Some objects, like magnifying glasses and balances, are always there to facilitate looking more closely. Others come and go with the seasons and the curriculum. Children frequently add found treasures to the collection – birds’ nests, interesting rocks, snake skins, etc.
There are many live animals in the Science Room (and in other classrooms in the school). Since the school’s founding in 1929, teachers have understood children’s compelling interest in other living creatures, and the value of using real animals for children to love, care for and learn from. The Science Room’s mammal collection includes guinea pigs and a rabbit that is litter trained and runs freely around the room during the day. There are also lizards, turtles, crabs and fish.
Equally fascinating to most children is the collection of animal bones. Whale vertebrae, a snapping turtle shell, a skeletal lobster and various skulls invite comparison to children’s own bodies and bones. There is even a real human skeleton that the children may touch and study.
Children learn best when they can do something themselves, so much of the science curriculum involves teaching children age-appropriate scientific methodology in a hands-on way. That means allowing them to pursue answers to their questions and giving them problems and challenges to try to figure out. At the Science Room lab tables, children can formulate questions, make hypotheses, experiment, and draw their own conclusions. Of course keeping good records is critical in science, so all of the children from kindergarten and up have science notebooks in which they record their questions, observations, data and conclusions.
To conduct all of those investigations and experiments, children must have the proper tools. The Science Room is fully equipped with many microscopes, dissecting implements, measuring containers and devices. There are also plenty of tools for young field scientists to use, from binoculars for tracking birds to nets for snagging leaf packs from the creek.
SRV’s extensive science library collection has all the necessary resources for young scientists to learn more. There are lots of reference books about every kind of science, and plant, animal and mineral guidebooks. Children looking for inspiration can browse the project and experiment books for ideas about things to try. They can also use the Science Room computers to conduct research and create reports.
While the Science Room is the center of SRV students’ science education, it is augmented by the vast laboratory provided by the school campus and immediate environs. The Rose Valley woods and creek are used all year round. Children track animals in the snow, look for signs of spring, and notice the habitats of our neighborhood foxes, owls and hawks. About every other year the oldest students conduct an extensive study of the health of our watershed and creek, scientifically analyzing the biodiversity and looking for signs of erosion and pollution. Students are also involved every year in analyzing the health of the woods flora, and work to eradicate invasive and reintroduce native species of plants and trees.
Another feature of the campus that is used in science is the greenhouse and organic garden. All of the children in the school help plan what is planted each year, and take part in the care of the garden from starting seedlings in the greenhouse to harvesting vegetables and preparing them for lunches and snacks. Of course gardening work also involves work with fertilizing (we make our own compost and mulch), weeding, and bedding the greenhouse and garden for winter, and the children help with all aspects of this.
Finally, field trips are a regular feature of the children’s science experience at SRV. Whether it is the youngest preschoolers hiking up the hill to the garden, the kindergartners visiting a local science museum, or the oldest students taking a day to work in an area nature preserve, all of the children come to understand that the world around them is full of fascinating things to study and learn about. And they learn that taking care of that world is critical and everyone’s responsibility.