Carl Sagan, the famous astronomer and writer, said that all children start out as scientists, full of curiosity and questions about the world around them. Kindergarten teachers aim to tap into that natural scientific potential. They do it by introducing lots of fun projects and experiments, taking trips outdoors to explore nature, and leading in-class discussions that help students discover simple but amazing facts about the world around them.
In general, three main areas are covered: physical science (the properties of objects and materials), life science (the characteristics of organisms and our environment), and earth and space science. In addition, teachers are expected to guide students in the basics of scientific inquiry — that is, to develop their skills of investigation and experimentation.
Learning by Doing
Five year olds have a hard time understanding abstract concepts, so touching and manipulating things helps them develop a more concrete understanding of scientific principles. Classroom science activities are often tied to typical kindergarten interests to keep kids engaged. Kindergarten students at Barre Town Middle and Elementary School in Vermont, for example, spend six weeks experimenting with force and motion in the school's science lab. Racetracks, gutters, and wooden ramps are set up throughout the lab. Students roll cars and balls of different sizes and weights down the various slopes, using blocks to change the steepness of the ramps. Varying degrees of force are applied with the help of straws, turkey-basters, and air pumps to move the balls or cars along.
Your child is apt to spend lots of time outside the classroom as well. Kindergarten science curriculums typically take advantage of children's curiosity about the world and use the outdoors as a natural laboratory. Your child may visit local parks and gardens, lakes, beaches, and ponds. A world of science knowledge can be found just in the school backyard, studying earthworms, trees, and plants. Students may bring insects or leaves back into the classroom and observe them, discuss them, and create pictures or projects.
Kindergarten isn't all field trips and fun, however. Educators say that the best way to train budding scientific thinkers is to help them verbalize what they've observed during an experiment or activity. When students hit a roadblock, good science teachers are careful not to provide the answers, but to guide them in finding the answers themselves. Helping students to convey scientific ideas verbally is also important since most 5 year olds don't yet have the fine motor skills necessary to express those ideas in writing.
Encouraging children to think things through can yield big dividends when they experience the thrill of discovery. When kids think for themselves, learning is more likely to stick with them, and they're more motivated to try problem-solving again the future. That means they are likely to thrive in the trial-and-error world of science discovery and exploration.