The Science of Ice Cream: Our Smallest Students Tackle Big Ideas

Two children sit at a table with plastic cups in front of them while an adult digs into a bag of soil
The students planted seeds to learn how plants grow

What’s the difference between animate and inanimate? What are the states of matter, and how do they change? 

These aren’t questions from the AP Science test—they’re issues being pondered by pre-schoolers in our Early Childhood Education (ECE) programs. Using a curriculum called ScienceStart!, our ECE teachers have been teaching the children about scientific inquiry. 

“The whole system is made for them to explore and think and use their hands,” said Angelica Perez, who oversees Early Childhood programs at our Lincoln Square location. “They want to try everything. We can explain a theory or concept—but it isn’t until they try it themselves that they truly grasp it and learn the skills.”

The activities have involved planting beans to see them sprout, making collages to observe different textures—and even making ice cream to study freezing and melting.

“They definitely enjoyed making ice cream,” said teacher Shekeema Peters with a laugh.

“Everyone was engaged,” adds Perez. “It was cold to touch, and this one was thicker and that one was slurpier— it was nice to see that they were having fun but also grasping the concepts.”

It’s a challenging time to do hands-on activities. Some of the children are attending class online full-time. Others are doing hybrid learning—they’re in the classroom on certain days each week and learning from home on the rest. The staff credits the families for working closely with them to have the right supplies on hand.

“The parents have been very helpful,” said Michelmarie Acevedo, an assistant teacher for remote learning. “We’ll let them know the day before and then post all the materials the morning of. It’s usually simple things.” The school has also invited families to come in and stock up on supplies. 

Angelica credits Shayna Williams, who supports teachers across all the classrooms, with ensuring the material would work well at the school. 

“She really embraced the curriculum and reached out to them to get comfortable with it and asked a lot of challenging questions. She provided a lot of support to the teachers and administrators,” said Perez. 

Our Early Childhood programs were the first to re-open in the COVID era. The staffers say it took some time to figure out the children’s needs and how best to meet them. But they say the experience of reopening has been overwhelmingly positive. 

“It’s been great,” said Peters. “The children are happy to return to school and be with their friends and learn and play. That makes it all worth it.”

The young students and their families have been flexible, said Acevedo. The children have even figured out how to share play time remotely: “Even if we can’t play together in a classroom they can do it on a screen and actually enjoy it.”

Angelica said that joy is reflected in the classroom. “You figure it’s a chaotic time, but every time I walk into Miss Peters’ classroom there’s a calm and a peace. They’re genuinely happy and in a good space.”