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4.4: Helping Children Form Explanations

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

    Criteria: 4.4. form explanations based on trial and error, observations, and explorations.

    How Teachers Help Children Form Explanations

    Helping children learn how to observe and to use tools to aid in their observations is very important to science learning. It is also important for teachers to help children think about and discuss what they have observed. When teachers help children communicate about their observations and experiences they are helping children to form explanations by discussing and recording things they have seen, tried, or experienced.

    Teachers can support children’s development of the scientific inquiry foundations and help them form explanations with the following:

    • Facilitate children’s observation skills by using the term “observe” and introduce the process with a familiar item
    • Talk with children and ask questions to guide their observations
    • Invite children to observe objects and phenomena related to the current focus of inquiry
    • Promote the use of scientific tools to extend children’s observations and investigations of objects
    • Introduce children to scientific tools and their function and support their appropriate use
    • Encourage children to make predictions first and then check their predictions
    • Remind children that predictions do not have to be right
    • Record children’s predictions
    • Facilitate children’s ability to make inferences and draw conclusions (when inferring and drawing conclusions, children observe what happened and make an assumption about the cause)
    • Use everyday observations to model inferring
    • Encourage children to explain the reasoning behind their inferences
    • Encourage children to record observations and document investigations and findings
    • Promote the use of different forms to record and document information
    • Consider adaptations for children with special needs
    • Encourage children to describe their representations while you write their words
    • Encourage different means of communication including home language, sign language, and communication devices
    • Invite children to record collaboratively, using charts, graphs, or models
    • Ask open-ended questions to
      • Encourage children to share their observations
      • Facilitate problem-solving and investigations
      • Elicit predictions and explanations
    • Engage children in collaborative discussions[2]

    The chart below shows the progression of children's ability to form explanations.


    Figure 4.3: Image by Ian Joslin is licensed by CC-BY-4.0

    WMELS: Scientific Thinking

    Please see Performance Standard: C.EL. 4 Forms explanations based on trial and error, observations, and explorations, in the Wisconsin Model Early Learning Standards for sample behaviors of the children and strategies of adults. Remember that the skills are listed in order of development, but no ages have been assigned as children develop at different rates and times.

    The examples below are taken from the California Preschool Curriculum Framework and show how children, with adult assistance, can record observations and findings to form explanations and are provided once again as a reference. The chart below shows the progression of skills children's ability to form explanations from 48 months to 60 months of age.

    2.0 Documentation and Communication

    At around 48 months of age

    At around 60 months of age

    2.1 Record observations or findings in various ways, with adult assistance, including pictures, words, (dictated to adults), charts, journals, models, and photos.

    2.1 Record information more regularly and in greater detail in various ways, with adult assistance, including pictures, words (dictated to adults), charts, journals, models, photos, or by tallying and graphing information.

    2.2 Share findings and explanations which may be correct or incorrect, with or without adult prompting.

    2.2 Share findings and explanations, which may be correct or incorrect, more spontaneously and with greater detail.

    Engaging Families

    Teachers can make the following suggestions to families to facilitate their support science learning. When preschoolers talk to their families about their science experiences children share their observations and any explanations they may have come up with about what they observed and what happened.

    • Use science learning as an opportunity to involve families by inviting them to the program and by sending home suggestions for activities that they can do with their children.
    • Communicate to families their important role in supporting children’s curiosity and the development of scientific knowledge.
    • Share with family members your approach to science and how you support children’s development of inquiry skills.
    • Invite family members to come and talk with the teacher and children about their beliefs and connections to nature
    • Share the importance of active hands-on explorations of objects and materials
    • Inform families about children’s explorations and experimentations with objects and materials.
    • Involve family members as volunteers and rich resources in the preschool environment.
    • Provide families with enrichment and follow-up activities they can do with children at home.
    • Ask families about children’s previous experiences, cultural beliefs, and theories about living things.
    • Share with families children’s experiences with science in the classroom.
    • Remind family members of the many opportunities to engage children in life science explorations outside the preschool environment.
    • Provide family members with tips to support children’s awareness and understanding of their natural environment.[1]


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

    4.4: Helping Children Form Explanations is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Vicki Tanck (Northeast Wisconsin Technical College).