As American children continue to lag behind their global peers in science and math, educators and policy makers alike worry they will be ill-equipped to compete on the world stage. It is into this educational void that educator and author Clementine Fordham wades in, with mixed results.
A teacher of three decades, Fordham states that the best way to improve the nation’s standing is to start early, nurturing our littlest would-be scientists at a time when they are the most naturally curious. To that aim, Early Childhood Scientific Brain Connections, mostly works as it offers 22-child-friendly science experiments and lesson guidelines on topics such as growing mold or learning why popcorn pops. The best of the bunch are the experiments where children get their hands dirty and can see results (planting beans upside down to see how gravity affects growth, for example). Less appealing are lessons heavy on abstraction (talking about fog). Making a mess is always more fun.
While the book is often delightful, it suffers from several flaws. One of the biggest is its bombastic title, which is not only misleading but does this breezy manual a huge disservice, as some might skip the book altogether thinking it is a doctoral dissertation. In addition, the book often reads like the shorthand of a lesson plan, rather than a fully realized work. (Some of the directions to her experiments, for instance, can be vague, and adults may need to consult a second source in order to complete them successfully.) While each experiment comes with complementary instruction, such as vocabulary words and potential art projects, these additions muddy the focus and aren’t always well executed. Her vocabulary lists, for example, are much too long, overreach for the age group and are riddled with grammatical errors and missing words.
Fordham’s cause is a noble one, and her book should not be dismissed outright because of its problems. Parents weary of another rainy day full of kid videos and teachers looking for new classroom activities will surely welcome many of the author’s ideas.