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4.2: Using Tools to Support Science Learning

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    Course Competency 4. Examine strategies that teach early science skills.

    Criteria 4.2 identify tools to gather information and compare observed objects.

    What are Tools?

    silhouette of a child with a magnifying glassAs you learned in the previous section, children learn about science through their observations. Teachers can guide children's observations through the use of tools. Tools can be anything that teachers use to help children learn through observation, documenting their observations and discussing them. The environment and the materials in it as well as the language teachers use can be tools in preschool science.

    Tools in the Environment

    Preschool teachers can support and enhance that learning by how they set up the learning environment. 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. All of the strategies are things preschool teachers must keep in mind however, the bolded strategies apply specifically to the use of tools in early childhood science.

    • 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]

    Language and Vocabulary as a Tool in Preschool Science

    Language is a powerful tool in preschool science education, serving several important purposes:

    1. **Communication:** Language allows teachers and children to communicate about scientific concepts, observations, questions, and findings. It enables children to express their ideas, thoughts, and curiosity related to science.

    2. **Vocabulary Development:** Science activities and discussions introduce new vocabulary related to scientific concepts, materials, processes, and phenomena. Through exposure to these words and terms, children expand their vocabulary and develop a deeper understanding of scientific language.

    3. **Conceptual Understanding:** Language helps children develop a conceptual understanding of scientific concepts. Teachers use language to explain abstract ideas, make connections between concepts, and guide children in forming mental models of scientific phenomena.

    4. **Questioning and Inquiry:** Language encourages questioning and inquiry-based learning in preschool science. Teachers use open-ended questions to prompt children's curiosity, critical thinking, and exploration of scientific topics. Children learn to ask questions, make predictions, and seek answers through observation and investigation.

    5. **Observation and Description:** Language is used to describe observations, experiences, and findings during science activities. Children learn to use descriptive language to communicate what they see, hear, touch, smell, and taste, enhancing their observational skills and attention to detail.

    6. **Storytelling and Narratives:** Storytelling and narratives are powerful tools for conveying scientific concepts in a relatable and engaging way. Teachers use storytelling to introduce scientific topics, explain processes, and connect scientific ideas to children's everyday experiences.

    7. **Collaboration and Discussion:** Language facilitates collaboration and peer-to-peer discussion in preschool science. Children engage in conversations, share ideas, compare observations, and work together to solve problems and explore scientific concepts.

    8. **Documentation and Reflection:** Language supports documentation and reflection on learning experiences in preschool science. Teachers help children document their observations, experiments, and discoveries using language through drawings, written notes, or verbal reflections. This process encourages children to think critically about their learning and communicate their understanding.

    Overall, language plays a fundamental role in preschool science education by promoting communication, vocabulary development, conceptual understanding, inquiry-based learning, observation and description, collaboration, storytelling, documentation, and reflection. It serves as a bridge between children's experiences, thoughts, and discoveries in the world of science. OpenAI. (2024, May 5). The role of language in preschool science education. [Chat with ChatGPT]. Retrieved from conversation with ChatGPT.

    Using Scientific Vocabulary

    Teachers can help children learn new vocabulary and think like scientists by using scientific vocabulary and explaining what they mean. See the table below for examples of some of the scientific vocabulary you use with children.

    Table 4.1: Scientific Vocabulary[2]

    Words that can be used to describe scientific activities:

    Observe, observation

    Predict, prediction


    Similar, different

    Compare, contrast










    Scientific Tools for Preschoolers

    There are many types of tools young children can use to guide and enhance their scientific understanding. Preschool teachers can model how to use them and provide opportunities for children to practice using the tools so the children know how to use them during their scientific observations and investigations. See the table below for some of the types of tools children may use.

    Table 4.2: 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

    Using Materials as Tools

    Teachers can use a variety of different materials in scientific experiences. Teachers may have the children observe or analyze the materials or children may use the materials as tools to help them do something or complete a task.

    Table 4.3: 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

    4.2: Using Tools to Support Science Learning is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Vicki Tanck (Northeast Wisconsin Technical College).