'They absorb everything'

Penn State Behrend program exposes preschoolers to science subjects
Young preschool-aged girl pours fluid into a beaker.

Science Storytime is a monthly program at Penn State Behrend where young learners are exposed to science-based topics through story reading, hands-on activities, and space shows held in the college’s Yahn Planetarium.

Credit: Penn State Behrend

ERIE, Pa. — Ellie Learn is only a preschooler, but when it comes to chemistry, she may be in a class of her own.

“She came home after Storytime and said, ‘There’s solids, liquids and gases for matter,’” said her mother, Jamie Learn. “This is really good for her.”

Five-year-old Ellie, along with her 3-year-old brother, Samuel, regularly attends Science Storytime at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College. The monthly program, which is free and open to all preschool-aged children, exposes young learners to science-based topics through story reading, hands-on activities, and space shows held in the college’s Yahn Planetarium.

The activities and stories for each Science Storytime vary, though there is usually a consistent theme throughout. At a recent session, attendees listened as Tracy Halmi, assistant teaching professor of chemistry, read “Rosie Revere, Engineer,” a story in which the main character attempts to build a helicopter out of cheese but ultimately fails.

The students then rotated through four hands-on activities, each focused on flying. At one station, they made soda-straw rockets. At another, they used Snap Circuits to create helicopter wings.

“Educators tell us that young minds absorb so much more than we understand. We’re trying to fill those little minds with a love and passion for science,” said Halmi, who created the Science Storytime program last winter.

Research suggests exposing children to science topics at a young age has tremendous value. Early childhood years, birth to age 5, are known to be the most critical point in neurological or brain development, and studies by the National Science Teachers Association show that young children learn through active exploration.

“Kids are like sponges. They absorb everything,” Learn said. “By getting started young, they’re also not afraid of these topics in the future.”

Marty Manchester, an Edinboro resident, has attended every Science Storytime with her granddaughter, Eden Irwin, 4.

By the end of a recent session, Eden could be seen scurrying through Yahn Planetarium, checking out exhibits and playing with the electronic land rover.

“She just loves it,” Manchester said. “(Tracy) has said that at times she talks over the children’s heads, but I think that’s good as it broadens their vocabulary. No, they do not grasp everything, but they pick up more than we realize. Plus, she’s in a university setting, which is awesome for a little one to see and not find intimidating.”

For more information on Science Storytime or to register for an upcoming session, visit behrend.psu.edu/storytime.