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4.1: Introduce Children to Science Through Observation

  • Page ID
    205701
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    Course Competency 4. Examine strategies that teach early science skills.

    Criteria 4.1 identify observation skills used to gather information.

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    Preschool teachers help children explore science concepts in hands-on ways. By observing, using tools, forming explanations, and incorporating the scientific method, children can learn and engage with science in a fun and interactive way. It's important to start early in developing an interest in science, and preschool is the perfect time to do so. As you read the introduction to this chapter you will discover the integrated nature of science learning. The steps of the scientific process are interdependent. It is difficult to isolate the steps of the process because each of the steps builds upon the previous one and influences the next. We will explore how children are naturally inquisitive and what teachers can do to support their growing scientific understanding. As you read the information below, think about how children are using observation skills and how teachers are helping to develop observation skills in children.

    Children are Natural Scientists

    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. Preschool teachers can help children learn to observe by modeling how to observe.

    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.

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    Figure 4.1: 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]

    The following principles guide teachers in establishing a preschool science program that fosters children’s curiosity and develops their skills and habits to explore and learn about their world. These principles are consistent with a constructivist approach to learning, where children actively construct knowledge through physical and mental interactions with objects and people in their environment. The principles are drawn from current research-based models and approaches to early childhood science and are consistent with the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) guidelines on developmentally appropriate practice.

    • The preschool environment supports children’s curiosity and encourages inquiry and experimentation
    • The teacher
      • acts as a researcher, joining children in exploring their world
      • asks open-ended questions to encourage children to think and talk
      • introduces children to new vocabulary, including scientific terms such as observe, explore, predict, and measure
      • demonstrates appropriate use of scientific tools
      • invites children to reason and draw conclusions
      • encourages children to share their observations and communicate their thoughts
      • models respect for nature
    • Content of inquiry is developmentally appropriate and builds on children’s prior experiences
    • Scientific inquiry experiences are interesting and engaging for children and teachers
    • Children explore scientific concepts directly through active, hands-on, minds-on playful experiences
    • Children explore scientific concepts in depth through multiple, related learning experiences over time
    • Children construct knowledge through social interactions with peers and adults
    • Children use language and other forms of communication to express their thoughts, describe observations, and document their work
    • Teachers support children who are English learners in understanding and communicating scientific knowledge and skill
    • Science is embedded in children’s daily activities and play and provides a natural vehicle for integrating mathematics, literacy, and other content areas
    • Individual differences are recognized, and all children are included and supported
    • The preschool environment, home, and community are connected through science.

    Early childhood science education relies heavily on the observations of the children. The children need teachers who can wonder along with them and guide their observations by helping them describe and communicate their observations to others.

    References

    [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


    4.1: Introduce Children to Science Through Observation is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Vicki Tanck (Northeast Wisconsin Technical College).