Six pre-kindergarten children quickly grab their notebooks and move from station to station, eyes wide and startling to see the development of the ladybug.
They study each stage of the insect’s growth. One station has plastic models and another has plastic for making replicas of insects.
The latter contains live beetles in a display case.
This is a typical day in the early childhood science lab at High Point Elementary School in Cedar Hill, a place where children learn science with their own hands.
This tactile way of learning science has caused Chatana Heinz’s children, both pre-kindergarteners, to constantly question and explore the nature around them.
“I like that aspect of curiosity,” he said, laughing at the other curiosity.
As school districts prepare to bring more children back into the classroom face-to-face in the next school year, Cedar Hill teachers hope the Pre-K through 2 science lab will re-motivate them with hands-on activities after more than one year of distance learning.
The lab was set up to give young children a space in which they can learn and explore science, says Shay Whitaker, principal of High Point Elementary.
Science labs are usually for students of different grades, and the younger ones stay for learning in traditional classrooms.
Lessons taught in the lab can be taught well in the classroom, Whitaker says, but in the lab children are surrounded by the topic and can actively participate.
Children are naturally curious. Whitaker says they always ask how things work.
With this in mind, the lab is designed for younger children with age-appropriate experiences and lessons, rather than as a multi-class lab.
Children learn about the life cycles of plants and animals – such as ladybirds – and study how the seasons change through detailed diagrams and vocabulary.
“We wanted to instill a true love of science and learning,” Whitaker said.
The lab was scheduled to open in August, but the plan has been delayed due to the pandemic.
The lab finally welcomed the first kids this spring, and Whitaker says they immediately loved the hands-on activities and always ask their teacher when they’ll be back again.
The place where the laboratory was installed was once empty, but now its walls are lined with posters about the life cycles of trees and the phases of the moon.
Children have many tools available to handle, including microscopes and plastic animal models.
Although the students who were taking their lessons remotely this year couldn’t actually use the lab, the teachers gave them homework that matched the lab lessons.
Whitaker sees the lab as a way to get kids interested and perhaps encourage them to go back to school if their parents agree, because the pandemic remains a global health problem.
Although Whitaker is pleased with the reception the lab has received, she is looking forward to the new school year.
With more kids likely to return to campus after attending almost his classes last year, Whitaker hopes the lab will be fully used.
“It’s a completely different feeling to react to something,” he said. “We are fully prepared to go full speed.”
Hines, who is raising a nephew and a niece, says the kids went home to try and explain the vaquita lesson and the tools they used, like a magnifying glass.
“It was really funny because they said, ‘The lens thing. He said: The lens you wear.
Hines added that children are starting to ask more questions about the world around them, the weather, or how the grass grows.
Recently, for example, they were entering the house and his nephew stopped to check on a beetle.
Hines, a registered nurse, said science is an important topic, especially in the midst of a pandemic.
You don’t know what kids want to be when they grow up, but anything science related wouldn’t be the worst.
“Who knows, maybe another nurse will come after me,” she said.