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I have been intending to create a book for toddlers with basic scientific notions in it. Most books for this target readership that I have seen present whatever content in the form of a story, quite often with fictional characters. I was intending instead to go for the dry science, and write it down as easy-to-remember rhymes.

The content is clearly not easy to digest, both for the toddlers, and possibly for the parents too. To be able to explain the meaning of scientific concepts would be a dream; in the least I'm hoping to provide a mnemonic reference for future use.

To this aim, poetry makes liberal use of metaphors, similes, and other artifices to convey its content, and make it memorable. I am afraid that in general this would detract from the precision of the scientific language.

Are there rhetorical figures that, while preserving a good amount of language precision, would make the content easier to remember? Should the mnemonics rather be attained from the structure of the poem, i.e. a sonnet instead of a longer ballad?

As a note, I was planning to use religious litanies as a reference, purging them of the arcane imagery, and copying their repetition patterns, for instance. On the other hand, perhaps, science can find a different, more suitable form.

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It's been decades since I was a kid watching cartoons on TV, and I can still sing some of the Schoolhouse Rock songs.

Schoolhouse Rock, for those unfamiliar with it, was a series of short (2-3 minute) bits of educational programming interspersed among Bugs Bunny, Road Runner, Bullwinkle, et al. Each episode taught one concept -- math, grammar, US history, or science (later they added others). The episodes were memorable because of the following factors:

  • focus -- one concept, no complications, e.g. today we're talking only about conjunctions
  • catchy melodies with refrains (repeated sections) -- earworms work!
  • simple, entertaining animations that aligned with the structure (so refrains repeated animation too)
  • relatable, sometimes humorous or absurd, visuals

Examples on that last point: The main character of "I'm Just a Bill" (... sitting here on Capital Hill) is a rolled-up piece of paper with a face, arms and legs. "Conjunction Junction" involves a railroad operator pulling "trains" of words together, using cars labelled "and" and "or". The visuals reinforce the content, just like the music and poetic structure make the words memorable.

Schoolhouse Rock was aimed at kids in early grades in school, not toddlers, so the audience is more advanced. And you're writing a book, not producing a TV show, so you have different tools. But you're not the first person to write books in verse for kids (consider Dr. Seuss as a prominent example), so you do have some models. Putting all of this together, I suggest:

  • Use art liberally, and use a style that is age-appropriate. Use characters, not abstractions. Make them caricatures -- maybe you personify gravity as a lazy-but-still-cheerful slug, for example.

  • Focus on one topic at a time. In your chapter/story about gravity, do not get distracted by air resistance, acceleration, and other gravity-related topics. Those are discussions for another day.

  • Use a motif of some sort, whether it's a particular verse structure with lots of repetition, or alliteration, or something similar. If you're aiming at toddlers, assume that somebody is going to be reading the book to the child, so favor things that have a strong effect on the oral form. Kids can latch onto meter and rhymes even if they can't read yet, but they might not notice acrostics, for example.

  • Simplify. You want to explain science as it really is, but toddlers don't have the foundation for that yet. If you find yourself saying "well, actually..." or "technically it's really this..." while writing, stop and refocus. I'm not saying to talk down to kids; they'll hate that. I'm saying to teach the 95% that's accessible and mostly true and just not talk about the exceptions yet. Then you can have another story that builds on that foundation and talks about special cases, if you want.

2

In my house we are fond of Chris Ferrie, who I believe did this well. He uses some of the ideas present in other answers, that I'll not repeat. I will simply add that he also develops vocabulary recognition through exposure. He chooses a few words/concepts that are central to the subject matter, and uses those words repeatedly throughout the book. For example, in the Quantum Physics for Babies book he uses very simple language to describe an atom, electrons, protons, and neutrons.

By reading to toddlers you are not necessarily teaching them the most complicated abstract concepts, however your are teaching them language recognition. The more they hear a word used the more they can become comfortable with it and perhaps explore its meaning deeper when they get older.

2

More than words, toddlers remember actions.

What is science boiled down to its core? It's the idea that you can form hypotheses about how the world works, test them, then come to a conclusion.

So create an experiment. Preferably something an adult can recreate. Include instructions for the adults. Then take the toddler through the steps.

Adult: Out of sight of the child, get 2 cookies of different sizes and two big metal or plastic bowls of different sizes. Instead of a cookie, you can use a ball or other toy. Place the smaller cookie under the overturned bowl that is larger. Then place the larger cookie under the smaller bowl.

Text: Look. There is a big bowl and a little bowl. Each one has a cookie. There is a big cookie and a little cookie. Where do you think the big cookie is?

99% of toddlers are going for that big bowl. They can move the bowl, lift it high, toss it aside, grab the cookie, etc. But they're going to discover that their hypothesis—that the size of the container dictates the size of the contents—was wrong.

You can put the text in the form of a song or rhyming poem or anything else. The important part is that you make the toddler move while learning.

There are many more examples you can use.

  • Different sounds based on hitting different "drums" with different "drumsticks." Does a large bowl turned into a drum sound different from a small one? Plastic bowl vs metal? Wooden spoon drumstick vs metal spoons?
  • How fast different things fall.
  • How much force does it take to pop a water balloon?

And so on.

The idea is to focus on movement. This is one of the best ways small children learn.

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In order to get a foundation for your ideas, I would recommend looking into the mnemonics that science students often use to help them remember certain terms. For example:

Kings Play Chess On Fine Grained Sand

Translates to:

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus Species

Obviously the terms would have to be simplified even more for toddlers, but looking into these tools that students use might help.

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Toddlers, well, are toddlers and so even if you simplify the content and wording they would not necessarily able to visualize the physically unseen objects. For example, atoms, molecules, carbon, oxygen, etc.

Therefore I would suggest to write about those things which toddlers can either physically see or at least visualize the same. Relate the unseen, hard-to-imagine things with physical objects.

For example, use fruits to teach about vitamins, use fire to teach about combustion and reaction, use cold to teach about immunity etc.

It is therefore important what areas of science you want to make them explore and how creatively you link important lessons of science with easy to understand real world objects.

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