CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 7 . . . .November 25, 2005
Force is a concept that is introduced during the early years of formal schooling. In the Manitoba science cluster, “Position and Motion,” Grade 2 children learn to describe the position of stationary objects using a point of reference. They also learn about the motion of various objects and living things, friction and its effect on motion, inclined planes and the effect of slope on downward and upward motion, and wheel and axle systems. With the exception of the outcomes focused on stationary objects, those associated with motion are not addressed until children “recognize that the position and motion of an object can be changed by a push or a pull and the size of the change is related to the strength of the push or pull” (Manitoba Education and Training, 1999, Kindergarten to Grade 4 Science: Manitoba Framework of Outcomes, p. 3.32). It is this awareness that Move It! Motion, Forces and You is focused upon helping children develop and understand.
Following the introduction, cited above, author, Adrienne Mason, tells children that they use force to move their bodies and to move things. In order to walk, they push their feet against the ground, and to move a wagon, they pull it. She challenges them to find five ways that children, in the illustration accompanying the text, use force to move their bodies and other things. The illustration, by Claudia Dávila, depicts a boy pushing a girl on a swing, a boy bouncing up-and-down on a Pogo stick, a hopping kangaroo, two children and a mother playing jump rope, and a boy pushing a boy and a girl on a merry-go-round. This format is continued throughout the book. Children apply the idea Mason has introduced using Dávila’s illustration and then, where applicable, in a first-hand investigation. As one example, when children have been told that you use a lot of force “(a big push)” to move an object a great distance and less force to move the same object a shorter distance, they can see in Dávila’s illustration that the boy throwing a ball to a dog that is running to catch it will have to throw it with greater force than the girl who is tossing the ball to a dog that is near and merely jumping up to catch it. This is followed by “Puffing Power,” a “try this to find out” activity. Children, blowing through straws at Ping-Pong balls on a table, are to compare the distance their ball moves with a light blow (small force) versus a powerful blow (big force).
Other ideas introduced by Mason include applying a force to change the direction of a moving object, stopping a moving object by pushing in the opposite direction, gravity, the force required to overcome gravity so that light and heavy objects can be lifted, and friction. Dávila illustrates each page using colourful, but simple, flat and unadorned shapes and forms. Each child’s head, for example, is round. The mouth, nose, eyelashes, and eyebrows are often no more than a curved line, and eyes are ovals with a highlight. No one is overweight, everyone is happy and active – including the children in wheelchairs, and a number of heritages are represented.
The summary and information pages for parents and teachers are invaluable. I suggest that adults read these pages first. It’s important to recognize that “a force is a push or a pull that starts an object moving or changes its motion” (p. 28). This is not as clearly stated in the text designed for children. On page 10, Mason writes, “Things do not move unless they are pushed or pulled.” Although she is referring to stationary objects, some children could use this statement to support the naive view that there is an invisible force that acts on an object (Frisbee or arrow) and keeps it moving through the sky until it is used up.
In closing, I want to acknowledge Kids Can Press for initiating the “Primary Physical Science Series” with the release of Move It! Motion, Forces and You and Touch It! Materials, Matter and You, a Mason-Dávila collaboration also reviewed in this issue. These are two books that are a welcome contribution to the resources available for teaching young children.
Barbara McMillan is a professor of early and middle years science education in the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.
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