By Faran Fagen
The first thing 3-year-old Zev Bailey of Boca Raton does when he comes home from a session of the Sandoway Discovery Series is teach his dad, Chris, what he’s learned.
So far, the topics at the Sandoway Discovery Center in Delray Beach have ranged from the jungle to biodiversity, and in November pumpkin volcanoes and ice cream science will be featured.
“Each session is filled with things for him to explore, maneuver and create while learning each theme,” said Brittany Bailey, who signed her son Zev up for every session this fall, including the two this month, Nov. 3 and 17. “Zev is always fully engaged and happy to be there and loves his take-home projects.”
Sandoway has run this retooled Discovery Series for the past three months. Sessions are limited to no more than 15 kids, suggested ages 3-5, and usually take place outdoors.
“Our goal is to get young kids excited about learning and about science through discovery,” said Suzanne Williamson, Sandoway’s director of education. “We want kids to feel like they’re discovering new ideas and phenomena with hands-on activities and demonstrations.”
The center opened in 1998 with the goal of entertaining and educating people about environmental topics through experiential learning.
Williamson joined the staff at the beginning of June, after being a high school AP environmental science, biology and marine science teacher for 15 years.
“I’m so passionate about environmental education, and Sandoway has allowed me to spread that message to a wider range of kids and the public in so many cool ways,” she said.
For each part of the new series, Williamson and her staff have generated a theme.
In September, the theme was Ocean Explorers Academy, and the staff used coffee grounds and filters to model how fish breathe and then used a variety of materials to create a 3D coral reef.
A session showcases an experiment or demo to get the kids thinking about the science process, and then a hands-on craft and/or sensory project that stimulates their preschool minds and is something they can take home.
“We like to get messy, so we usually try to have sessions outside,” Williamson said.
In another session, kids explored the differences in density between fresh and salt water, and then used that understanding to make the layers of the ocean in a jar using liquids of differing densities.
The kids “had so much fun building their oceans in a jar,” Williamson said. “The parents really loved that they could give their kids a messy sensory experience and then just leave the cleanup to us.”
Each class is capped at either 12 or 15 kids, depending on space needed. October’s sessions were full.
Each meeting starts with a question to let kids share anything they know about the topic. Then they move into the experiment or demo, often working in groups to foster collaboration.
Next, they talk about what they saw and move into the craft or model that they make individually.
“Kids are encouraged to be creative and know that making mistakes is a learning process and that science is fun,” Williamson said.
November is STEM-sgiving, so activities are centering on fall and the great American Thanksgiving. Experiments will center on Thanksgiving foods, like making bread in a bag and simple homemade ice cream using the laws of physics. Kids will even make pumpkin volcanoes.
The Discovery Series has been a program at Sandoway for several years. The staff reinvented it this fall to make certain that kids immersed themselves in phenomena of the natural world and learned concepts that they will need to know in elementary school.
The series targets preschoolers because ages 3-5 are such critical years to shape the way kids feel about learning. Sandoway also offers a Young Scientists Series twice per month on weekends to allow a broader age range of kids to experience what scientists do and to develop a better understanding of the science process.
As for admission to the Discovery Series, the fee for non-members is $12 per child and $2 per child for members. Each accompanying adult is $10 (free for members).
Fee includes all materials and admission to the center for the day. To reserve a spot, call 561-274-7263 or email Suzanne.email@example.com. Payment will be accepted upon arrival.