The 5’s Explain Gravity

Sometimes an offhand remark leads to a spontaneous discussion that thrills a teacher. The ability to throw out a planned group time and go with the children’s interests is what makes teaching at The Farmhouse so fun and rewarding.  A discussion of gravity wasn’t in the lesson plan but it was in the children’s minds so the conversation began. We weren’t prepared to record their thoughts at first but we soon realized that the conversation was going to be rich.

We sang a song about where we live and since it was a class of 5 year olds we soon became silly.  We no longer were living in Issaquah or nearby cities, we were living on the moon and traveling in outer space. AJ commented that she had traveled to space and that you had to have food in containers or it would float away. Why? “Because the air is light and the food is lighter so it floats.” JT and TH both called out, “It is because of gravity!” Everyone agreed that gravity was the cause but what is gravity? Please note, we did not explain gravity to the children; we wanted to gain insight into their understanding of gravity. So we asked the children who would like to explain gravity to us.

JT – “There are little invisible pieces of air. They hold you down. They are little invisible pieces that people soak down into. Except your hands and head and other parts of the body are the only parts that could get out.”

TH – “Gravity is not light. It is an invisible force that keeps people from floating. There is less of it in space.”

NA – “Gravity is a force but it can’t keep penguins down. There is a bunch of light and heavy air compressing.”

LM – “The food floats into the gravity near the sun. It is a force in the meteor belt.”

We were impressed by their developing understanding of such an abstract concept and their attempts to explain it. As the conversation died down, we began talking about other things, including the recent wind storm (which was the intended topic all along). We talked about all of the trees, branches and leaves that had fallen down on Saturday. What caused them to fall? The wind, they said. We sat for just a moment. As we watched their faces we could almost see their minds working as ours were too. Somehow the spontaneous conversation and the intended topic had come together as if we had planned it. Someone shouted out, “Gravity!!”

Finally we decided to try and feel gravity. We wondered: What would it feel like if we were in the air? Would we fall even if we flapped our arms like wings? Could we defy gravity?