Preschool kid playing with GPM droplet

These are such fun little people with very short attention spans and lots of enthusiasm and questions! They will also want to tell you everything they know and then some, and everyone wants to get a turn to share in. While that is exciting, it can also sidetrack anything you are trying to convey pretty quickly!

Here are some general guidelines for working with this age group:

  • A typical presentation to this age group might look something like this:
    • Everyone is sitting on the floor in a circle, and you are sitting on a small chair in front of them. Sometimes they sit on carpet squares or in little chairs.
    • You introduce yourself, or have one of the kids introduce you if they know you are aren’t too shy. A very short introduction your name, the kind of scientist you are, i.e. hydrologist; and what you study, i.e. “weather”.
    • A very short introduction: i.e. “Today I am going to tell you about clouds and how they form. We are also going to learn a little bit about how rain comes down from the clouds. When I am finished, we will do a little handson activity to learn a little more”.
    • You talk for a few minutes, and have a way in which everyone can respond with a hand gesture or by all calling out the answer together, or else you may be stuck hearing about their weekend and their cat and be completely sidetracked if you allow too many openended responding to questions by individual kids.
    • Have a few slides to show, and perhaps even a short video. I will list a few suggestions below which are good for this age level. When you show a slide, get up and interact with the slide pointing things out and maybe even letting them call out the names of things you point to. You might also have them repeat some things you say, such as the parts of the water cycle (only the bare bone basics with these guys: evaporation- condensation-precipitation)
  • Length of presentation: Check with their teacher to determine how long your presentation should be. Most likely, it will be under 25 minutes unless you happen to have a hands-on individual activity that they can do themselves after your presentation.
  • Content: While there are no formal national science standards for these ages, there are so many great GPM-related topics you can focus on with these little enthusiastic scientists. They are beginning to put things together in their world, and still engage in a lot of “magical thinking”. Your job is to share a story about how something happens; such as why it rains and snows; and then let them take what they already know about clouds and precipitation and try to fit what you are sharing into their existing knowledge base. If possible, you also want to listen to their misconceptions and try to give them a developmentally appropriate new way to understand the processes correctly. Generally, the teacher will be a huge help here, as they are experts at doing this sort of “scaffolding”.
  • Here is a sample “lesson” that would be perfect for teaching children in preschool about the water cycle, with an emphasis on rain.
    • After you have done your short introduction, ask the children to give you a thumbs up if they have ever been outside in the rain. Ask them to turn to the person sitting next to them and tell them what they know about rain. After about 45 seconds, ring a soft bell or use a rain stick to get them back to attention.
    • Tell them you heard a lot of great observations being made about rain while they were talking. Ask who can tell you where rain comes from, and call on one or two to share what they know. Help them understand that rain and snow, both called “precipitation”, falls from clouds.
    • You could have a few slides here showing some different types of clouds. Don’t try to tell them the names and have them memorize the kids this is to help them recognize that there are many different shapes of clouds. You might tell them that because there are so many kinds of clouds, scientists use two main characteristics of clouds to help them identify them.  The two types of observations scientists make to identify the kind of cloud are by looking at its shape and its location how high or low in the sky the cloud is. There is a good children’s book which looks at different shapes of clouds called “It Looked Like Spilt Milk” you could read or suggest the teacher read before or after your visit.
    • After you tell them about clouds, then ask them “How do clouds get their water?” and let a few kids give you an answer. Use a slide here of the water cycle or simply hold up the GPM “droplet” and use it to show where we see “evaporation” taking place. I would suggest not handing out droplets to each student yet, as they may be too interested in playing with them to do much else… Give these to the teacher to pass out later. Help them understand that the sun is kind of like the engine that heats the water up, and that when it is warm the water turns into a gas. You could mention steam from a boiling pot of water and the fact that that is still water, just in a different form. Explain that once it is up high in the sky and in the cloud, it has turned back into a liquid again.
    • Explain that clouds don’t float off into space, but stay in Earth’s atmosphere, which is kind of like a blanket around Earth that protects it. When the clouds get too full of water, then we get either rain or snow. Ask them if anyone know why sometimes we get rain and sometimes we get snow see if they understand that when it is really cold, we get snow instead of rain. Tell them we call this stage “precipitation”.
    • They are probably too young to really get into runoff and groundwater, but you could show them this short (1:27) animation with the sound off and go through the stages of the “water cycle” with them as the red drop of water moves through the different stages.
    • Tell them that you work for a NASA satellite called “Global Precipitation Measurement” or “GPM” for short. This is a satellite that was built by hundreds of different people, and it is as big as a fire truck. It was put into the top of a rocket and send into orbit around Earth, and it goes around and around Earth collecting data. Explain that no one is on the satellite, and there are people on Earth who keep track of it using computers. Tell them that this satellite is able to measure how much rain and snow is falling from the clouds all over the world, and every half hour we get new measurements. You can show them the “GPM” sticker they will get, but leave those with the teacher to pass out later.
    • Rain Cloud in a Jar Science Experiment:

      Now you can do a demonstration for the students showing them what it looks like to see the rain passing through the clouds and onto Earth. The directions for this demonstration activity are here.  Show the activity to the teacher ahead of time so s/he can have all the materials ready for you. S/he will know if the students are ready for using the printables or not, and can also have them ready to be used if needed.

    • If the teacher feels the students are able to handle it, they may have some stations where the students can do this in small groups. Perhaps they will add this activity to one of their “stations” for students to do after your visit.

    • If you have time to respond to some questions later, you might ask the children to let their teacher know about any questions they still have and s/he can email them to you to respond to when you get back to work. In that way, they can ask questions if they like, but you want have each of them trying to ask questions and their short attention spans not lasting throughout a question and answer session. Another thing you could do is to walk around as they do this activity in small groups and ask if they have any questions.