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.
*Note: Developmentally, young children learn and understand best from what they can see, touch, feel, and manipulate.
*“Children acquire scientific knowledge by ‘construction’ not by instruction!
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO INTRODUCE EARLY LEARNERS TO SCIENCE?
There are a variety of reasons; but one of the most important is that science provides a context for learning about our world. Other reasons why early exposure to science is useful:
- It helps children develop valuable literacy skills– in addition to developing scientific, environmental and math-related literacy, science may prompt children who don’t enjoy reading fiction to read non-fiction, linking the scientific process of exploring and discovery with reading.
- Scientific inquiry and problem solving builds confidence. Learning to ask questions and solve problems is an essential life skill and vital for school learning.
Early exposure to the many facets of science may help cement future interest. “Many young people turn away from the world of science because they think it’s isolating and that science works by itself,” says Schmidt. “If you can help children understand that science is actually about teamwork, about exploring their world and about communicating that information to other people, the essence of science will be better understood [and more children may stick with it].”
So, don’t fear exploring the world of science with the preschooler. Together you can enjoy discovering answers to life’s puzzles – both big and small.