Data collection in early childhood

Cover of January 2011 NSTA journal, Science and ChildrenThe January 2011 issue of Science and Children focuses on collecting data. In the Early Years column I wrote that “Young children collect data every day. They note who has pink sparkly shoes and find out who will share the ball on the playground. Children will be interested in collecting data if the topic is important to them, such as recording their favorite color.”
Data collection is an important part of science inquiry. Here are some examples of data collection methods for science investigations by young children:


Chart to compare which rolled down the ramp fastest: a marble, a wiffle ball or a plastic egg.

Tally chart

Tally chart counting up the class’s favorite of four smells.

Drawing of experimental set up.

Drawing to record the set up for an experiment.

Drawing observations of the results.

Drawing observations as the experiment progresses.

Photograph of rain gauge results.

Using photographs to record amount of rain in rain gauge.

Drawing of caterpillar.

Making drawings of a caterpillar as it grows.

Graphing favorite rainbow colors with squares of paper.

Children graphing their favorite rainbow colors, described in Marie Faust Evitt’s comment below.

Once your students have collected data, what do you do with it?
Hold a conversation with a few students or a discussion with the entire class about any patterns they see; anything they notice in the representation of their observations, and any new questions they might have. Have your students write or dictate their thoughts.
Share the data collection methods your students have used and how they have supported student understanding by commenting below.

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7 Responses to Data collection in early childhood

  1. In addition to the data collection methods you highlight, I like to have the children build big graphs to record their preferences. For example, in my preK class, we graphed favorite rainbow colors. I precut 3” squares of the color choices, big enough for children to write their names. They then glued their preference in the correct column. I’ve found that young children really want to know which square is theirs: “Green is my favorite color and there’s my green square. It says Sam.” After they have established which square is theirs, they can move beyond the personal to see the bigger picture — that green is the favorite color of three people and violet is the favorite color of seven people. Being able to point to their square makes the graph more meaningful to them.

  2. Peggy Ashbrook says:

    Ooh, good idea Marie. This can work with younger children as well, who may recognize their name, first letter, or a symbol, even if they can’t yet write it, and they definitely know their favorite rainbow color. I added your photo to the list of data representations above–thanks!

  3. Wendy says:

    In our Pre-K classroom last year we did graphs all the time. We recorded information that the children were interested in and would hang them up on the walls for everyone to see. The children would actually go the graphs and compare how many students liked one thing or another. They would count to see how many students liked different things. For example, around Easter last year we did a graph on Jelly Beans. We recorded how many students liked the pink, green, yellow and so on. The students have to be interested in the activity in order to be actively learning!

  4. Peggy Ashbrook says:

    Wendy, yours and Marie’s comments about graphing inspired me to do a little research to see when standards suggest introducing graphing. It appears that preK is not too early, as your experience demonstrates. See my post of March 14, 2011
    Thanks for sharing what is happening in your classroom.

  5. Kellie J says:

    As a math teacher, I whole-heartedly agree with all of the previous posts. The earlier that something can be introduced, and the more time the children can be exposed to something, means that they are more likely to understand and will be able to apply their knowledge in the future. Children are very visual learners so when they can see the differences by charting their data, it becomes real to them. I really like the idea of using squares with the children’s names on them. If you can do anything to give the students ownership, then they are more likely to remember the activity and want to point out where their piece of the data is. I think that this holds true no matter what age the “students” are. Even as adults, we like to know that our “voice” has been heard and our vote has been counted.
    An activity that I have used with charting data is a pictograph with favorite foods. Each child is given a 4×4 inch paper and they draw what their favorite food is. If more than one child draws the same food, they simply stack them. I have used this as an icebreaker at the beginning of the year. The students get practice with their data collection and charting skills, and they get to know each other a little better.

  6. Elizabeth Rupnik says:

    As an early childhood teacher, I agree that the earlier something is introduced to children the better they understand it and learn it. I love teaching my students about graphing and ordering objects from smallest to largest. We graph or do different math lessons each week.
    Last week I did a graphing lesson on pond animals. Each student was given a piece of construction paper with six different pond animals on the bottom. The students then were given 8 pictures of the same pond animals in different amounts. The students then were asked to match the pictures they got to the bottom of the paper. We then attached the pictures. The students then looked at which animal they had more and less of.
    We also did an ordering lesson where the students were given three different sized ponds. The students then were asked to put the ponds in order from smallest to largest.
    The students love learning and exploring with different math lessons. Graphing, patterning, and ordering are a few of the major lessons they enjoy. The students are learning these at an early age and will not be able to remember these later on and be able to apply these to different things as they get older.

  7. Peggy Ashbrook says:

    Drawing and graphing students’ favorite foods sounds like an icebreaker that would work with adults too, Kellie. It can also help us get to know something about a child’s home culture too if we have them draw a dish their parents make or eat in addition to their favorite food.
    Elizabeth, your idea about graphing pond animals made me think about counting and graphing the tadpole-growth (number of legs) of the wood frog tadpoles we just started caring for. These baby frogs are borrowed from a local nature center and will go back to their natal pond once they are froglets. My students could check every day and count the number of tadpoles with 0, 1, 2, 3, or 4 legs. The counting will be the hard part as they move around the tank! The graph of the number of tadpoles with each number of legs will document their growth to adult form.

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