Aren't science concepts too difficult for young children?
As a discipline, science is defined as an understanding of the natural world. Young children are biologically prepared to learn to walk and talk, and in the same way, they are biologically prepared to learn about the world they live in. Learning about the world through the lens of scientific investigation is age-appropriate and highly engaging for young children.
The processes involved in science investigations are the same ones that young children are in the process of developing – observation, comparison, classification, planning, describing, and so forth. All children develop these skills during everyday experiences. Science investigations can strengthen these skills and help children become more consciously aware of them.
What science topics can be explored with young children?
Young children typically need first-hand experience to understand what an adult is talking about. So science for young children is most appropriate when it involves hands-on activities. The ScienceStart! Preschool Curriculum includes units that could be described as physics (Movement and Machines, Color and Light), life science (Neighborhood Habitats), chemistry (Properties of Matter). We also explore data collection and ways to represent data through modules about school and friends and a module about ways to measure things.
Science topics during the early childhood years generally avoid phenomena that cannot be personally experienced, such as magnetism, dinosaurs, and (for most children) oceans. This does not mean that young children are not interested in these topics. It is simply difficult to explore them in depth at this age.
I don’t know much about science, so how can I teach it to children?
The great thing about age-appropriate science for young children is that it is also age-appropriate for all adults. We have seen parents without a high-school diploma, early childhood providers who claim to be ‘frightened’ by science, and professional research scientists explore the everyday world with young children. They do so in very similar ways.
Three- and four-year-olds are extremely curious about the everyday world. They ask hundreds of questions! You don’t need to know the answers to these questions to teach science. Just agree with the child that it is an interesting question, then collaborate with the child in trying to find answers. Science is a body of knowledge, but much more importantly, it is a procedure for finding out about the everyday world. Learning and practicing these procedures make all of us scientifically literate.
The ScienceStart! Preschool Curriculum has a very simple and child-friendly ‘cycle of scientific reasoning’ that you can easily adjust for your own goals.
Reflect and Ask:
When you and the child(ren) have a question, talk about everything you already know that might help you answer the question. Decide whether to narrow-down the question.
Plan and Predict:
Talk about how to address the question and plan what steps to take. Based on what you already know, what do you predict you will find out?
Act and Observe:
Carry out your plan and see what the results are. Do they match your prediction? If they don’t match your prediction, that is very useful information. If they do, that is also useful information.
Report and Reflect:
Describe your findings in words or in other ways such as diagrams, drawings, photographs, or videos. How do these findings contribute to an answer to the original question? What could you do next to find out more?
Sometimes, the best approach to ‘finding out’ more about a question is to look at a book or to ‘google’ the question. Googling often helps you locate videos that describe or demonstrate science concepts in age-appropriate ways. There are hundreds of books for young children that can help them learn more about science. These books are both expository/non-fiction and fiction.
Do you offer training in implementing ScienceStart!?
ScienceStart! offers half- and full-day training for new users of the program. The half-day provides and extensive overview of the program. The full-day program incorporates the half-day content but allows deep dives into activities.
What does science look like in a preschool classroom?
Just like they are biologically prepared to learn to walk, talk, and interact with other people, young children are biologically prepared to learn about their everyday world. They form mental representations of their experiences and use these representations to guide their further actions, expectations, and understanding.
The ScienceStart! Preschool Curriculum, takes ‘learning about the everyday world’ to a new level. The lesson plans provide structured opportunities for systematic exploration of the phenomena that children regularly experience and provide ways for children to organize and talk about these experiences. For example, all children have experiences with air, liquids, and solids. ScienceStart! lesson plans organize these experiences so that children learn the vocabulary for these different states of matter, identify and compare their characteristics, experience how a single substance (such as water) can change from one form to another, and plan investigations to explore further questions they may have.
I’ve heard about “the knowledge gap.” What does that mean?
Children who grow up in poverty tend to enter school with lower vocabulary and fewer language skills than their middle-class peers. They also know less about the everyday world. We know that these differences do NOT mean that children living in poverty have lower intellectual skills than children in more affluent environments. What it DOES suggest is that they have fewer enrichment experiences and fewer opportunities to have conversations with adults. This means they don’t have the opportunities to develop a rich knowledge base and large vocabulary; it eventually interferes with their ability to comprehend what they are reading (because comprehension means relating text to what is already known).
The ScienceStart! Preschool Curriculum is the only commercially available curriculum that emphasizes content. While children learn the science content, they are also developing important, age-appropriate skills in language, literacy, mathematics, and cognition.
Isn’t it more important for young children to be learning the foundations for literacy than learning science?
No one needs to make this choice! Children develop many of the foundations for literacy as they investigate and experiment. Their vocabulary expands. They develop a variety of language skills such as asking questions, describing what they see, forming explanations. As they use books to look for information, they learn many conventions of print. Children can be introduced to alphabet letters, comprehension skills, and phonological awareness skills within the context of reading and doing science. They can create books and “write” in science journals as they explore new science topics.
If you are uncertain how to integrate science with language and literacy, you will find that the ScienceStart! lesson plans do this for you. As you follow these lesson plans, this type of integration will become automatic for you.
Funding is always so limited. Isn’t it expensive to get the equipment needed to do science?
Of course there is no limit to the amount of money you could spend equipping your early childhood classroom. On the other hand, most of the materials you will need to teach science to young children is not specialized; they are already in the classroom or readily available from local stores (for example, items for cooking, blocks, cars, counting bears, and pan balances). Special items you could need include flashlights, magnifying glasses, eye droppers, and mirrors.
We also recommend that people who adopt the ScienceStart! Preschool Curriculum invest in a digital camera and printer so that the children can create classroom books to document the results of their investigations. Each day’s lesson plan recommends a book to read aloud; many of these are available in school or public libraries and a teacher can always substitute a different book on the same topic.