Science activities in early childhood prepare for a lifetime of learning

Like learning to count or to read, learning how to do science is a process. Children of all ages benefit from exposure to “science” situations where they are encouraged to fully experience our world, describe what they see, count and record data, ask questions about the experience, repeat the experience, and think and talk about the why of it. If we want children to become life-long questioners and perform well on standardized tests when they are in high school, we need to include science in their early childhood curriculum where direct experience with different materials and an encouraging environment develop their beginning ideas about the natural world and their exploration confidence.
Science activities can be designed to encourage children to make predictions about what they think might happen. Questions such as “What do seeds need to sprout?” “What will happen to this object in water?” and “What is attracted to a magnet?” are common topics in preschool. After seeing what does happen, children can share their thoughts, informally or formally, and record them by drawing, writing, recording on a chart, and dictating. Once is usually not enough for engaging experiences, and repeating the process is part of scientific inquiry. Later that day, the next week or even months later, children will recall what they did and talk about why they think they saw the results that they did.
Today I saw a K-1 class mixing pinches of turmeric, paprika, and dirt into small dabs of egg yolk, oil, and water. (Safety note: Remind the children to keep hands and brushes out of their mouths and be sure to wash hands afterward.) They talked as they worked, noticing differences in all six materials and how the dry powders mixed into the liquids. The objective was to determine which mixture would be most suitable as paint.

(Click on the photos to enlarge.)
This structured investigation inspired a lot of discussion and wondering. I wonder at what levels the children will use this background to support future learning about differences between oil and water, the composition of foods, and how to preserve works of art.

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5 Responses to Science activities in early childhood prepare for a lifetime of learning

  1. Peggy Ashbrook says:

    The following day, after the mixtures dried, we evaluated them for use as paint. Many children commented that the oil and dirt (high clay content) did not mix well, and that they preferred the look of the water base mixtures. That surprised me and my co-teacher Luisa because we had been struck by the vibrancy of the egg yolk base mixtures.

  2. Julie McGough says:

    I agree that children benefit from exposure to “science” situations that help them experience the world around them! Involving children in questioning, thinking, and valuing their ideas and recordings of information is a crucial part of primary education. Children are naturally curious and inquisitive. They automatically think scientifically. If we model and promote these skills in the classroom our children will grow up with a positive working knowledge in the STEM fields.
    It is disappointing to see children that have lost an interest in discovery and wonder due to instructional practices that focus too much on detached content. The example of mixing powders and liquids to make paint is a wonderful and easy idea. The teacher used everyday ingredients that help the children connect learning to their everyday lives. A science kit was not needed, just a few items from the kitchen, a classroom filled with wonder, guiding questions and observation! I am sure the students will continue to think about new combinations and apply the ideas during play and at home allowing them to make connections!
    My own students never cease to amaze me when I allow them to think. I listen to conversations on the playground and hear from parents the impact that they are having on their family and other students. They bring in examples to share that show we all learn all the time where ever we are. Learning does not have to be confined between the hours of 8-3 and inside classroom walls. Connections and learning should cross the lines of curriculum and life outside of school.

  3. Peggy Ashbrook says:

    I love to hear of connections being made between in and out of the classroom learning. The kindergarteners in my after school science “club” are eager to try things out. We’re using cove molding ramps and many kinds of balls to explore the relationships between ramp structure and ball motion. Slowing the children down enough to have them voice their thinking helps them find those relationships, something they might not do without guidance. It’s great that your students can share their thinking on the playground as well as in the classroom.

  4. Krista says:

    I loved reading this article. I am going through my “teacher training” right now and science is a hard subject think about teaching with younger children. I will be obtaining my elementary and early child hood degrees so it is great to see an article about science with preschoolers. I agree that many students lose their curiosity because they are always told what to do instead of being allowed to wonder. I really liked the simple activity that involves science inquiry. Students do not need to perform and lay out the whole scientific method to learn about science! There are so many ways that students can observe and and record data besides doing formal writing. Great article and thanks for the encouragement to teach science to the younger students!

  5. Charles Nichols says:

    This past weekend, at a dive show in New York area looking at the kids programs to promote interest in teaching kids about life in the oceans and how polution is effecting ocean life. I stopped at a booth with great books, DVD’s and lesson plans for teaching Pre-k through third grade about the ocean and the fish and creatures that live there. I was extremely impressed by the quality of the pictures, illustrations, and video on the DVD’s and in the books. They will grab the attention of the kids. The author Annie Crawley and her organization “Dive Into Your Imagination” has come up with exceptional materials. She is going to be in Indianapolis, NSTA convention at booth #2336. Stop and see what she has done. These are the best materials I have come across so far for introducing kids in this age group to the science of our oceans. She has materials and can do presentations for all elementary grades up through college to continue science education about the ocean beyond the early years.

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