Lisa Robertson: Eco Challenge, Where Fun and Learning Lead to Kindergarten Readiness
Exposing children to new life experiences is important for so many reasons. Whether it is trips to the zoo, Disneyland or a museum like the Discovery Cubes in Los Angeles or Orange County, finding meaningful ways to provide children with valuable experiences can not only create lasting memories but give them a leg up in school. The Discovery Cube Los Angeles’ EcoChallenge is one of those life experiences in which young children (and even children already in school) learn valuable lessons that go far beyond having fun.
The Eco Challenge is a wonderful, award winning exhibit sponsored by LA Sanitation and LA DWP. The exhibit’s primary goals are to teach children environmental stewardship and healthy living—to of the museum’s four core goals that also includes early learning and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) proficiency. I would argue that it also focuses on the latter–especially early learning.
The Eco Challenge is broken into two fun activities—the Discovery Market and the Race to Zero.
Discovery Market is a hands-on experience with the focus of providing children with exposure to concepts of selecting healthier foods, as well as foods and other products that are kind to environment. Children begin by selecting a kid-size shopping cart complete with a “super cool” scanner.
Real world experiences for early learners at the Discovery Cube Los Angeles
Every kid wants a scanner, right? With a kid-size cart and a scanner in hand, kids can’t help to be engaged in this learning activity right off the bat.
Working with a parent or sibling, the child selects the challenge they would like to go on–all of which focusing on learning the importance of making healthy and Earth-friendly choices while shopping.
Real world experiences for early learners at the Discovery Cube Los Angeles
While they “shop,” the exhibits “characters” (the are animated food and environment experts) speak to participants and provide them questions and guidance for coming up with the right answers. Shoppers work with siblings or a parent to determine things like fat or sugar content (evaluating if one number is bigger or smaller than another) or may be asked questions about a product’s packaging.
Children continue to learn about healthy eating and selecting Earth friendly products throughout the challenge. At the completion of their challenge, they are given a special code to enter at the “checkout” to find out if they successfully completed the challenge. If they got enough correct, they get their faces up on the wall of Super Shoppers.
The great thing is that there are numerous challenges at different difficulty levels, which means kids can play again and again over the course of many visits to the Cube.
Race to Zero Waste
This portion of the EcoChallenge is perfect for kids with a bit of a competitive edge; children race against others to correctly sort recyclables and other waste to divert trash from our landfills. As “trash” comes down the conveyer belt, they are coached with what should go in the trash can and what should not. Children learn about the types of waste and how it doesn’t ultimately all end p in the same place.
Kids adore the opportunity to “touch real trash” (realia, as it is known in the education world) and from an education standpoint, the fact that children have to take real life items and sort and classify the items based on something more than their color or size, is an experience that is tough to put a price tag on.
Helping Kids Get Ready to Learn
Together these two exhibits provide children with the opportunity to really develop skills they so desperately need in kindergarten and beyond, including:
An understanding of sorting and classifying objects in abstract ways.
Exposure to academic language and real-life experiences
Early concepts of science and the environment
Foster a desire to learn through fun and play
One of the first skills teachers work on in kindergarten is sorting and classifying. Being able to sort and classify objects, ideas and actions is at its most basic level the understanding that things can be the same and different. This skill is necessary for children to be able to learn to read, write and count. As adults, it is easy to dismiss the ability to know what is and is not the same as something we are just born understanding, but in reality, the skill of comparing and contrasting two or more things brings in many different skills that children must often be taught to hone in on. Simple sorting by size or color can be easy for children, but sorting and classifying foods as healthy or not healthy or trash as recyclable or not recyclable takes a bit more thought. This type of skill may not come naturally, and the EcoChallenge provides children with clues and guidance as they go through the exhibits (along with a little help from siblings or mom and dad) to really practice this incredibly valuable skill. The ability to understand the concept of same and different, and to be able to find similarities and differences in objects, experiences and actions allow children to better process what they are learning and find ways to apply their prior knowledge to new concepts. Sorting and classifying concepts is vital for virtually every facet of learning—from mathematics to language arts and beyond.
Vocabulary Development and Life Experiences
While every parent knows that speaking is a vital part of learning, having a variety of life experiences and a vocabulary that comes from those experiences goes a long way in the classroom. Children who can recall their life experiences and the words and phrases associated with those experiences are able to connect their prior knowledge to the concepts they are being taught in the classroom. The EcoChallenge provides children with valuable life experiences that may be a bit more difficult to ascertain outside the Discovery Cube. Children often help mom or dad shop for groceries, but how often are they asked to make decisions about those groceries or scan them with the scanner? Children may be asked to throw certain trash away in a particular trash can, but how often do we as parents give our children a pile of trash and ask them which cans it should go into and why?
The “real life experience” in the Discovery Market forces children to think in terms of prices and measurement (“what is more” and “what is less or fewer” for the kindergarten set), in addition to having to focus on the language associated with items in the stores (i.e. names of foods and the containers they come in). These experiences and developing the language that goes with these experiences is a very rich and meaningful activity that pays off in the long run in school as children must rely on their prior knowledge when gaining understanding of new concepts.
Environmental Responsibility for Early Learners at the Discovery Cube Los Angeles
Knowing the names of common household items may not seem like it is important for kindergarten readiness, but it is a really big deal. Teachers often connect children to their prior knowledge and experiences in order to make science, math and social studies lessons easier to understand. They also attempt to connect to children’s prior knowledge when discussing literature.
Early Science Concepts
Children are natural consumers and asking them to look what they eat (or at what mom or dad buy at the store) as having an impact on them beyond their immediate gratification, life or home is a wonderful way to introduce them to concepts surrounding earth science and conservation. The concept of healthy eating and making wise choices when purchasing food introduces children to important concepts regarding human health and how the human body works.
Desire to Learn
A desire to learn is a basic fundamental building block that is a key indicator in a child’s academic success. Fun, education-rich experiences early in life go a long way in sparking a child’s desire to learn and do well in school in the future. The EcoChallenge and the Discovery Cubes in Los Angeles and Orange County provide these opportunities in spades.
For more information on the Discovery Cube Los Angeles, click here. For more information on the Discovery Cube in Orange County (near Disneyland) click here. The Orange County Cube offers a similar (expanded version of the Los Angeles EcoChallenge). This post is sponsored as part of my Mom Ambassador role with the Discovery Cube LA. As a credential teacher and former reading intervention specialist, all opinions are my own and based on my time as an educator, and of course my biggest life role–that as a mother of three.