Why teach science in early childhood?
- Young children are naturally curious and constantly exploring the world around them
- Classroom science provides the opportunity for children to extend this natural curiosity and building of theories
- From classroom experiences, children can develop a greater appreciation and understanding of the natural world
- Provides children with direct experience with materials, events, and ideas that are important to later learning
- Science exploration in early childhood is science inquiry – exploring materials/events, asking questions, investigating, recording/representing their work, reflecting on what they have done and what it means – allowing them to create new theories or ideas about how the world works
- These skills, attitudes, and ways of thinking are important to many areas of learning throughout life
- Build self-confidence and confidence in their environment
- Gain necessary firsthand experiences
- Develop basic concepts
- Increase observation skills
- Receive opportunities to use tools, equipment and familiar materials
- Receive aid in problem solving
- Stimulate their curiosity for exploration and discovery while increasing basic knowledge
- Develop sensory, physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and social attributes
- Develop language through increased vocabulary and an opportunity to ask and answer questions
(A Child Goes Forth: A Curriculum Guide for Preschool Children, Ch. 8)
What are the characteristics of a high-quality science program?
- It builds on children’s prior experiences, backgrounds, and early theories
- It draws on children’s curiosity and encourages children to pursue their own questions and develop their own ideas
- It engages children in in-depth exploration of a topic over time in a carefully prepared environment
- It encourages children to reflect on, represent, and document their experiences and share and discuss their ideas with others
- It is embedded in children’s daily work and play and is integrated with other domains
- It provides access to science experiences for all children
What is the teacher’s role in early childhood science?
- They choose a focus for inquiry
- They prepare themselves to teach a topic
- They create a physical environment that supports inquiry
- They plan a schedule that allows time for inquiry
- They foster children’s questioning
- They encourage children’s work and deepen their understanding
- They observe and assess individual children in the group
What you can do:
- Allow extra time – exploring, becoming comfortable and really taking something in takes time.
- Look at your attitude towards being outside, nature, science – children will most likely mimic your feelings. Model caring for the environment – ecologically sound behaviors such as recycling, not letting water run unnecessarily, saving paper scraps for collages…
- If you’re entering a new environment, make sure children understand the boundaries, rules and expectations for being there.
- Safety – be observant!
- Watch for what the children are most interested in, expand on this.
- Flexibility is key.
- Go outside often – for many children this is the only experience they will have with the outdoors and nature, especially if they live in an urban environment.
- You don’t need to know what everything is – children usually do not just want to know the name of something. Ask a question about what it is doing, what it eats, where it lives, etc. and then do further research with the children when back inside if they want.
- Encourage curiosity and questions.
- Instill a sense of wonder in the children. “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder…he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the natural world we live in.” – Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder
How can I incorporate science into my classroom?
The easiest way to incorporate science into the early childhood classroom is to “find” the science in the activities you are already doing. A lesson about “me” can include making pasta skeletons with the children’s pictures as the head. Color mixing, exploring which materials dissolve in water, comparing similarities and difference in objects, and cooking are all science activities.
Set up a science center.
This does not need to be expensive. Large and small magnifiers, prisms, balance scales, mirrors, magnets, color paddles, and a variety of objects to observe and measure are a great way to start. Models and animal puppets are always a hit. Throw in a few theme-related books, puzzles, and writing materials and you’re set. Change the materials on a regular basis to keep things interesting.
Teach what you know.
If you like animals or plants, start there. Meal worms make great class pets. They are easy to care for and you can observe their life cycle. Plants come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and textures. They can be observed and measured. Lima bean seeds are easy to plant and grow. Don’t forget to include “Jack and the Beanstalk” with this activity. Even teachers without a green thumb can provide plant science activities for their students by bringing in flowers and leaves for children to observe and take apart.
Use your surroundings.
Get pine needles from your Christmas tree vendor, dog fur from your local groomer, pick up pine cones, feathers, leaves, etc. whenever you find them. Ask you local pet shop for snakeskin, feathers, and other animal items. Once the word gets out that you collect these things, people will save them for you.
Be a good observer.
If your students start to do something unusual with an item or use it in a non-standard way, step back and watch. He/she may be making a new discovery and just might teach you a thing or two.
Introduce new items and concepts to the group.
The children need to understand what things are for, and how to use and take care of them. Let them play. Children must have time to freely explore new things before participating in a structured activity.
Answer their questions honestly.
If you don’t know an answer, find out. Then, tell the children where you found the answer. Even preschoolers understand looking up information in books, on computer programs, and on the Internet.
The best way to promote science literacy is to expose your students to a variety of books, from preschool level to adult. Just make sure the adult books have lots of pictures. You will need the information in the adult books to answer the children’s questions.
A few simple additions to your classroom and curriculum will provide endless opportunities for creative thinking, problem solving, and exploration. You’re students will be on their way to becoming “Super Scientists.”
How should early childhood science be taught and how is it different from elementary/middle/secondary science?
- Foster inquiry by building on children’s spontaneous exploration and gradually guide them to become more focused and systematic in their observations and investigations.
- Give children many and varied opportunities to use inquiry skills, but not isolated from interesting topics and ideas and children’s ongoing play
- Science for early childhood MUST be experiential, hands-on activities and materials that children can explore. Science should be integrated into other content areas and used in songs, fingerplays, and other daily activities and pointed out in every day life.
What are the skills of inquiry?
- Raise questions about objects and events around them
- Explore objects, materials, and events by acting upon them and noticing what happens
- Make careful observations of objects, organisms, and events using all of their senses
- Describe, compare, sort, classify, and order in terms of observable characteristics and properties
- Use a variety of simple tools to extend their observations (e.g., hand lenses, measuring tools, eyedroppers, a balance)
- Engage in simple investigations including making predictions, gathering and interpreting data, recognizing simple patterns, and drawing conclusions
- Record observations, explanations, and ideas through multiple forms of representation including drawings, simple graphs, writing, and movement
- Work collaboratively with others
- Share and discuss ideas and listen to new perspectives
Preschool children are capable of:
“For the most part, children can participate fully in the process of inquiry at age-appropriate levels. Simplifying the process, or even the vocabulary, is a disservice to the students’ interest and ability to observe closely, ask questions, wonder, use tools, collect data, use logical thinking, consider alternative explanations, record findings, share information, and build on new experiences to develop new ideas about the world.” (Ashbrook, P. (2005).
What can young children do as scientists? (Science & Children, p 24-27)
- Scientific Method:
- Observing and predicting
- testing predictions or answering questions by using simple experiments (cracking a nut to see what’s inside)
- recording findings (draw picture in journal, make leaf rubbings)
- Living Things:
- Acquiring basic vocabulary for plants, animals and humans
- explaining that living things have specific needs (water, air, food, light)
- demonstrating knowledge that living things exist in different environments (fish can live in water because they can breathe underwater)
- explaining differences between living and non-living things
- Using language to demonstrate knowledge of physical change (when I add red paint to white paint it will change)
- describing how matter can change form (snow melting in water table, making cookies)
- demonstrating understanding that living things change as they grow (life cycle)
- using words related to weather and environmental phenomena (sunny, cloudy, rainy) and night and sky objects (sun, moon, stars)
- associating the seasons with changes in the climate and environment
- Environmental Responsibility:
- Demonstrating care for environment
- sorting materials for recycling
- discussing in simple terms how humans can care for or harm the environment (if you throw garbage in the water it can hurt fish, the water gets too dirty)
(New Jersey State Department of Education)
What are some ideas to get me started?
- Water table:
- Colored ice cubes
- Objects frozen inside ice cubes
- Different sized containers
- Tubes and funnels
- How tall can you build a tower?
- Resource books at a wide range of abilities
- Picture books
- Computers – Peep and the Big Wide World, PBS, see resources
- Science word wall
- Coffee filters/eye droppers/food coloring
- Paper chromatography
- Carnation/celery and food coloring
- Knox gelatin in sensory table to explore texture/add different colors/mixing colors
- What is magnetic in our classroom?
- Magnet painting
- Nature Walks
- What sounds do I hear?
- Classification of objects found outside
- How do animals hear/see/use camouflage
- Observation Stations
- Tree “cookies”
- Plant growth – in classroom or pick a tree outside and observe over the course of the year
- Planting seeds
- What makes a plant grow big and strong?
- Feely box
- Write predictions/observations on a chart (with assistance if necessary)
- Smelling jars
- Old mechanical objects (radios, telephones, etc.)
- Make sure they are safe (remove any hazardous or potentially hazardous materials) and allow children to explore how they are put together
- How can you make a really big bubble?
- Variety of materials could be used in the sensory table
Where can I find resources?
Peep, Chirp, and Quack show you science activities and online games for preschool children.
National Wildlife Federation Publications such as Wild Animal Babies, Ranger Rick, and Your Big Backyard
These pages are full of Snacks…but they’re not the kind you eat. They’re the kind you can learn from and have fun with. Exploratorium Science Snacks are miniature versions of some of the most popular exhibits at the Exploratorium
Preschool science website
PBS kids ZOOMisc activities in a variety of areas of science for a variety of ages.
- Worms, Shadows, and Whirlpools: Science in the Early Childhood Classroom by Karen Worth and Sharon Grollman
- Building Structures with Young Children by Ingrid Chalufour and Karen Worth
- Exploring Water with Young Children by Ingrid Chalufour and Karen Worth
- Discovering Nature with Young Children by Ingrid Chalufour and Karen Worth
NSTA “The Early Years” – resources and conversation on PreK-2 science
- What Is a Scientist? by Barbara Lehn