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8.3: Environmental Factors in Supporting Science

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    The indoor and outdoor environments provide the context for children’s physical and social explorations and construction of scientific concepts. The following are strategies for helping teachers set up a physical environment that is rich, stimulating, and conducive to children’s construction of knowledge

    • Be thoughtful about what objects and materials to include in the environment
    • Provide a variety of natural materials to observe and investigate
    • Include objects and materials that allow for creativity and open-ended investigation
    • Include living things in the preschool environment
    • Include scientific tools for observation, measurement, and documentation
    • Make scientific tools available throughout the preschool environment
    • Consider adaptations in scientific tools and materials for children with special needs
    • Use technology to support children’s scientific experiences
    • Present documentation of science-related experiences in the preschool environment
    • Include children’s books with science-related content
    • Use the outdoors for natural explorations and investigations
    • Organize the space in ways that promote children’s explorations
      • Allow space for observations and for objects, materials, tools, and resources related to science
      • Allow for flexibility in the use of physical space and furniture to accommodate the changing needs of each activity
      • In order to promote self-direction and free explorations, tools and materials need to be accessible and consistently available to children
      • Social interactions are necessary for conceptual growth and the development of communication skills
    • Always be aware of children’s safety
    • Foster children’s curiosity and questioning
    • Guide children in exploring their questions
    • Be an active observer
    • Talk with children and engage them in conversations during their investigations
    • Provide children with time.
    • Know when to intervene and when to stand back
    • Model the use of scientific vocabulary[1]
    Table 8.1: Scientific Vocabulary[2]

    Words that can be used to describe scientific activities:

    Observe, observation

    Predict, prediction


    Similar, different

    Compare, contrast










    Table 8.2: Suggested Scientific Tools[3]

    Types of Tools

    Names of Tools

    Observation Tools

    Tools to extend close observations

    • Magnifying glasses, hand lenses
    • Binoculars
    • Tweezers
    • Microscope Trays (Collectors’ trays)

    Measurement Tools

    Tools for measuring length, height, weight, volume, and temperature

    • Tape measures, strings, unit blocks
    • Rulers Scales (e.g., balance scale, bathroom scale)
    • Measuring cups
    • Measuring spoons
    • Thermometer

    Recording Tools

    Tools for recording and documenting information

    • Pencils, markers, crayons
    • Science notebooks/journals, charts
    • Papers, posters
    • Camera, computer
    • Felt board, magnet board
    • Materials to create 3-D models
    Table 8.3: Suggested Open Ended Materials[4]

    Types of Materials

    Names of Materials

    Materials for Building and Construction

    Open-ended materials can be used in multiple ways and therefore allow for investigation, creativity, and problem solving

    Sample Materials:

    • Blocks of various shapes, sizes, and materials (e.g., wood, foam,
    • cardboard)
    • Boxes
    • Cardboard, planks, ramps
    • Carpentry tools
    • Gutters, hollow tubes
    • Logs
    • Nuts and bolts
    • Screws
    • Sticks
    • Straws
    • Wheels, wheeled objects
    • Other construction materials

    Collections of Objects and Reclaimed Materials

    For exploration of diverse materials and use in sorting, classifying, and ordering activities

    Sample Materials:

    • Bottles
    • Boxes of various sizes
    • Buttons
    • Collection of balls of different sizes
    • Collection of different types of animals (for sorting and pretend
    • play)
    • Collection of household tools made from metal, wood, plastic
    • Collection of musical instruments
    • Corks
    • Fabrics (e.g., a collection of gloves made of wool, rubber, leather)
    • Glass nuggets
    • Metal lids
    • Plastic lids
    • Screws
    • Shakers, maracas, castanets
    • Styrofoam pieces
    • Wind chimes
    • Woodchips

    A Variety of Substances/ Materials

    • Cooking utensils
    • Corn starch
    • Dough
    • Eggshells
    • Flour
    • Liquids
    • Salt
    • Sugar

    Natural Materials: Earth Materials

    Natural materials found on earth

    • Clay
    • Crystals
    • Minerals
    • Rocks
    • Sand
    • Seashells
    • Soil
    • Tools to dig and explore soil (e.g., trowels, containers, magnifiers,
    • trays)
    • Tools to explore water (e.g., water table, clear plastic tubes,
    • connectors, funnels, containers)
    • Water

    Natural Materials: Plant Materials

    Materials derived from plants and animals

    • Bark
    • Cotton
    • Feather
    • Fruits
    • Fur
    • Leaves
    • Seeds, seed pods (e.g., pinecones)
    • Tree logs
    • Twigs
    • Vegetables
    Research Highlight

    Children bring to science many ideas about how things work. These intuitive understandings or naïve theories that children have constructed often conflict with what is known to be scientifically correct. Children hold preconceptions and misconceptions about different topics of science including forces, changes of matter, light, sound, and earth phenomena. For example, children believe that water disappears when it evaporates or that rain occurs when clouds are shaken. It is important to know how these conceptions differ from the scientific explanation and why children construct these ideas. Children’s misconceptions are intuitively

    reasonable, from the child’s perspective, and are used by children to explain the “why” behind physical events. Some of children’s ideas may be cultural beliefs that have been introduced at home. The teacher’s role is to guide children through numerous opportunities to discover and re-create concepts, without overtly correcting their misconceptions. Remember, science is about experimentation, and the goal is to support children’s scientific thinking, not to merely provide the correct answer.[5]


    C. E. Landry and G. E. Forman, “Research on Early Science Education, in The Early Childhood Curriculum: Current Findings in Theory and Practice, 3rd ed., ed. C. Seefeldt (New York: Teachers College Press, 1999).

    N. L. Gallenstein, Creative Construction of Mathematics and Science Concepts in Early Childhood (Olney, MD: Association for Childhood Education International, 2003)


    [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

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

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

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

    This page titled 8.3: Environmental Factors in Supporting Science is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Jennifer Paris, Kristin Beeve, & Clint Springer.