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10.1: Introduction

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    Children have a sense of wonder and natural curiosity about objects and events in their environment. Just like scientists, they seek information and actively explore and investigate the world around them, try things out to see what happens, and confirm or adjust their expectations.

    Science is a natural and developmentally appropriate focus for young children. Preschool science is about active learning, not memorizing scientific facts or watching the teacher perform science demonstrations. The purpose of preschool science is to nurture children’s habits of inquiry, critical thinking, creativity, innovative problem solving, open mindedness, and the motivation to learn. Preschool science guides children’s natural curiosity into opportunities to observe, explore, and inquire about basic phenomena and materials in their world.

    From infancy, children gain knowledge and develop concepts about living things and physical objects. Preschool science provides children with focused experiences that allow them to learn ways to explore and extend their knowledge. Children begin to adopt scientific ideas and to acquire the basic skills and language of scientific inquiry (ways to explore and develop knowledge and understanding of scientific ideas). Making observations, posing questions, planning investigations, using tools to gather information, making predictions, recording information, and communicating findings and explanations all combine in an evolving process of developing science understanding and creating a disposition to choose to learn science in the future.

    Science can be conducted in any preschool setting. All preschools, regardless of the level of resources and access to nature, can use their existing resources to create a program with meaningful science learning experiences. Pushing cars down an incline, building with blocks, manipulating tubes at the water table, or mixing clay with water are everyday play activities that engage children in experimenting with objects and materials. Collecting leaves, searching for insects in the yard, sorting and classifying fruits and vegetables, and sprouting seeds in pots engage children with living things. Experiences of child-initiated play are important as they provide children with opportunities to construct understanding and integrate knowledge. With teachers’ intentional planning, guidance, and support, children’s play and interactions with objects can become rich experiences of scientific inquiry and facilitate children’s knowledge and understanding of objects and events in the world.

    Preschool teachers play a pivotal role in expanding children’s understanding of science concepts and developing children’s attitudes, skills, and the language of scientific inquiry. The teachers can focus children’s attention on particular science concepts, those that are developmentally appropriate, interesting, and engaging for both children and teachers. They can create engaging inquiry experiences, encouraging close observations of objects and events.

    Children may draw the connection to their own growth and the growth of other animals and begin to develop a broader understanding of living things. Such experiences of scientific inquiry not only support children’s development of scientific knowledge, but provide a natural vehicle for developing children’s social skills, and their development in mathematics, language, literacy, and other domains.

    Figure 10.1: A teacher used background knowledge to help the children create this bilingual butterfly life cycle documentation.[1]

    Preschool teachers do not need to have extensive knowledge about science in order to teach it well, but they should be willing to research and gain general knowledge of the concepts and principles they explore with children. The kind and amount of information or knowledge they need to know is readily available through basic research. Acquiring some background knowledge about the topic helps teachers in planning inquiry experiences and challenging and supporting children through their explorations.

    Teachers do not need to have answers to all the questions children will raise. Rather than providing children with answers, teachers can use children’s questions as a springboard for further investigations. They may say, “I don’t know. Let’s find out together.” It is essential that teachers become “scientists” together with children, model a questioning mind for children and think out loud, expressing interest and enthusiasm. Teachers’ thoughtful guidance and support through inquiry experiences builds a foundation for children’s understanding of basic science concepts, fosters a positive approach to learning, and develops learning skills and attitudes necessary for later success in science and in other subjects.[2]


    [1] The California Preschool Curriculum Framework, Volume 3 by the California Department of Education is used with permission

    [2] The California Preschool Curriculum Framework, Volume 3 by the California Department of Education is used with permission

    This page titled 10.1: Introduction is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Jennifer Paris, Kristin Beeve, & Clint Springer.