A young child starting preschool brings a sense of wonder and curiosity about the world. Whether watching snails in an aquarium, blowing bubbles, using a flashlight to make shadows or experimenting with objects to see what sinks or floats, the child is engaged in finding out how the world works. While a child’s focus is on finding out how things in her environment work, her family and teachers may have somewhat different goals. Research journals, education magazines, and the popular press are filled with reports about the importance of young children’s development of language and literacy skills. Children’s natural interests in science can be the foundation for developing these skills.
Do you know of a child who is not completely full of questions? As educators and parents, it’s easy to tune out the barrage of inquiries—but wait—could we be missing valuable teaching moments full of motivated learners? The resounding answer is, YES! What may be a never-ending supply of trivial questions may, in fact, be a complex science investigation. “Teachers can stimulate curiosity by asking questions themselves and by responding with warmth and enthusiasm to children’s inquiries.” Teachers who work with young children have that unique opportunity to facilitate powerful learning experiences and inspire deeper investigations that will validate and empower children to learn. Hands-on science activities and investigations are essential components of any early childhood setting and they help lay the foundation for life-long learning and healthy development.
When children learn by doing and experimenting, they retain what they learn in a uniquely accessible way. Scientific exploration promotes the development of problem solving skills, recognition of cause and effect and organizing and classifying. These explorations lay the foundation for future understanding of more complex science concepts later. The ability to solve everyday problems through trial and error is essential for science and self-confidence. So go ahead, have fun, get your hands dirty, and inspire a young child to explore, question, and investigate. Empowering a young child to be a generator of knowledge is a special gift that will help lay the foundation for a life-long love of learning.