Feb 5, 2016

#STEM Starts at Home: Touch aka Leaning About Material Properties

What to do 

From an early age, you can have your little one feel different materials: soft cloth, gooey lotion, sticky lip balm, cool metal spoons. It’s even better if the materials are safe to chew or if they make noises (rustling, crinkle, etc.) so you baby can experience them with more than one sense.
image by richardsweet (Richard Sweet),
via rgbstock.com 

What you are doing 

By letting your tyke experience different materials, you are adding to his or her knowledge about material properties which are important for certain technical fields, engineering construction, and scientific experiments.

If your child has a rich exposure to different materials, it will be easier for your future scientist to pick the right materials for his or her heat transfer experiment, or the right adhesive for the latest engineering prototype.

How you can grow 

As your baby grows, find other age-safe materials to share. Manage “itchy fingers” (as my father would call my fingers that constantly tried to touch everything) with touch boxes or materials that your toddler and preschooler can feel, fold, tear, or crush.

Preschoolers can progress to a take-apart box containing old or broken items. Invite them to take apart anything in the box to see how different materials are used in different ways (e.g. for shape, performance, or aesthetics).

You know you are successful

When your child responds positively to new materials and wants to experience them repeatedly, you know that you got him or her hooked on material discovery. More advanced material discovery includes: finding a material’s limit (when does it break?), determining ways to form the material (what tools and techniques can I use?), and learning how to fasten and cut the material. Be aware that there might be actual destruction of the material during this investigation!

Even as an adult engineer, I find that holding, touching, and pulling on materials continues to give me a full appreciation of a product’s design. Itchy fingers never actually go away, they just get productively redirected.