Professional Development: "Sciencing" and Young Children

By Carol Seefeldt, Ph.D. and Alice Galper, Ph.D.
  • Grades: Early Childhood, Infant, PreK–K, 1–2
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Science is more manageable, and more exciting, when you consider it to be a process of learning right alongside children!

Many teachers report that they feel less prepared to teach science than any other subject matter. It seems that these feelings result from teachers' misconceptions that science for children requires a command of difficult concepts and acquisition of facts. This view of science has changed. During the last two decades, a number of researchers have focused on how children learn. Early childhood educators now believe that children are constructive learners, constantly creating and constructing their knowledge about the world based on their own questions. From this perspective, children are natural scientists.

During the period of early childhood, children build a solid foundation of knowledge of scientific inquiry and develop an interest in and understanding of science and technology. Regardless of gender, racial or cultural background, or disabilities, each child actively participates in science experiences and views himself as successful in this endeavor.

The term "sciencing" refers to the child's active participation in learning about science and points out the emphasis on process. "Sciencing" is a "hands-on, brains-on" endeavor. The three goals for "sdencing" with young children are:

  • To develop each child's innate curiosity about the world around him
  • To broaden each child's thinking skills for investigating the world, solving problems, and malting decisions
  • To increase each child's knowledge of the surrounding natural world

Life Science and the Living Environment

Science programs for young children should provide for direct experience with living things, their life cycles, and their habitats. Although confused at first, young children develop concepts of living and nonliving things, understanding of the variety of living things (including their environments), and respect for living things.

Physical Science, the Physical Setting, and the Designed World

A science program for young children should include many opportunities for children to exercise their natural curiosity as they observe and manipulate common objects and materials in their environment. As children explore the properties (such as size, weight, shape, and color) of objects and materials, they can measure these properties using first simple and then more conventional tools. Beginning concepts develop as young children act on objects. Their actions produce a desired effect by putting objects together to form constructions of various kinds. They then draw conclusions about how the desired effect was produced.

Bringing Children and Science Content Together

To bring children and science concepts together, teachers first need to find out all they can about the science content they are planning to teach young children. To do so, they can:

  • Read books for adults and children on the subject they want to teach.
  • Determine the underlying concepts that children can learn. Key concepts can be identified through inquiry into authentic questions generated from student experiences. They can also be derived from themes generated by The National Science Education Standards, The Benchmarks for Science Literacy, and knowledge of child growth and development.
  • Visit museums, watch videos or television, and search the Internet

The teacher then needs to find out what children already know and understand of the concepts key to science themes. Teachers can:

  • Interview children. For example, find out what they know about water and then ask them to:
    • tell you everything they know
    • draw a picture of water
    • construct a web with water words
    • explain some of the reasons why water is important to life on Earth
  • Take a walk around the neighborhood to gain an understanding of what they already know and how these experiences can be expanded.
  • Observe children as they work and play, noting the science concepts they use and how they solve scientific problems and use the vocabulary of science.

You can extend children's knowledge of science by:

  • Providing children with all kinds of books-poetry, literature, single-concept books, and reference books-that pertain to concepts children are exploring. Books can be openly displayed on a shelf or table, inviting children to extend and expand their own ideas.
  • Looking at pictures and other visual media with children. Videos, photographs, movies, slides, and computer simulations of things in, or not in, their environment can be examined and discussed to extend and expand children's knowledge.
  • Giving children the opportunity to observe and listen to authorities talk about their field: A docent at a local museum can explain features of rocks and minerals; a park ranger can reveal some of the mysteries of nature on a nature walk.
  • Telling children a piece of information that will enable them to make sense of their firsthand experiences. Giving children the words for scientific phenomena is something that teachers can do to enhance and extend learning.
  • Questioning children. Questions and comments are key to promoting scientific thinking. When children encounter new materials and phenomena, teachers may need to intervene to focus and challenge students. Premature intervention, however, may deprive students of the opportunity to confront problems and find solutions.

  • Subjects:
    Curriculum Development, Early Science, Curiosity, Real-World Science, Teacher Training and Continuing Education
  • Skills:

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