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Bring Out the Natural Scientist in Kids

Posted by on in Studentcentricity
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Hands On Science and MathWhat comes to mind when you hear the word science? Do you think of topics like chemistry and physics? Do you imagine people in white coats doing mysterious things in labs with beakers and Bunsen burners? Do you wonder what any of it could possibly have to do with early childhood education?

If you answered yes, you’re not alone. What I’ve described above doesn’t have anything to do with young children, so you may believe that this content area isn’t an essential part of early childhood education. Moreover, because science is an intimidating subject to many adults, a lot of teachers would be happy to leave it out of the curriculum!

But if we consider what science is really about, we see that it aligns perfectly with the essence of childhood, as both involve exploration and discovery, investigation, experimentation, and problem solving. Every time young children experiment with the capabilities and limitations of their bodies and body parts, they’re “doing” science. Every time they’re outside, collecting and comparing rocks, discovering the textures of sand and tree bark, or playing on a seesaw, they’re “doing” science. Every time they toss a ball – or a chiffon scarf – into the air, they’re “doing” science!

This week I had a lively, ideas-filled conversation with three fabulous early childhood professionals. Beth Davis, author of Hands-on Science and Math; Peggy Ashbrook, author of Science Is Simple; and educator and blogger Deborah Stewart joined me on a Gryphon House-sponsored episode of Studentcentricity to talk about making science “teaching” less intimidating. I put “teaching” in quotes because, as I’ve indicated, where there are kids, there is science. For the teacher, it’s really a matter of having conversations and asking questions that encourage further exploration. I highly recommend that you listen to this conversation. You can do so by clicking here.

Below are the follow-up comments from Peggy:

Science practices help us begin to understand the complexities of the natural world beginning in the early years with simple explorations such as tearing a fallen leaf, pouring water and rolling a ball. As science educators we commit ourselves to being life-long learners. I have had very good teachers, including, children who showed me that they understand more when they can manipulate the materials; researchers who delved into how children learn such as Michaels, Shouse, and Schweingruber, authors of Ready, Set, SCIENCE!: The Early Childhood Science Education position statement written and adopted by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and endorsed by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) is a great tool for understanding how to teach science to preschoolers. I think it’s so useful to video ourselves teaching so we can see how we engage children and improve our own practice.

I continue to learn from colleagues such as those in the NAEYC Early Childhood Science Interest Forum  (https://www.facebook.com/Early-Childhood-Science-Interest-Forum-naeyc-140431919391071/ ) and in the NSTA in our Early childhood science 2conversations on social media, in the NSTA Learning Center early childhood forum () and at local, state and national conferences.

 From Deborah:

As I left the conversation, I was thrilled to note that the one thing our conversation didn't focus on is "bubble science."  You know, the type of science that is focused on bubbles, fizzes, and pops.  Those are certainly cool but not always meaningful to the young child.

Instead, our focus was on daily life science. Integrating scientific terminology, thinking, and tools into daily life experiences and discoveries. 

If an early childhood teacher wants science to be simple, then start with knowing some basic scientific terms, gathering some basic scientific tools, and learning to ask questions instead of giving the answers. Then look at the things in this world through a child's eyes. See what they know and help them discover what else there is to know. 

And from Beth:

I believe that young children are sponges that will absorb whatever they are exposed to.  We can easily weave science inquiry and observation into every aspect of our day from the time we wake until the time we go to sleep. Examples exist all around us from how we clean ourselves, the foods we eat, the technology we use, plants, animals, sun, moon, and sky. Even a trip to the grocery store can be filled with observation. Most important of all, teaching science does not need to be expensive. Everyday household and kitchen items as well as recycled material provide the perfect tools for science instruction. When we teach children science it is essential that we weave language, communication, literacy, and math throughout all of the activities. For videos of young children exploring science, go to my blog: www.handsonmindsoneducation.com.

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Rae Pica has been an education consultant specializing in the development and education of the whole child, children's physical activity, and active learning since 1980. A former adjunct instructor with the University of New Hampshire, she is the author of 19 books, including the text Experiences in Movement and Music and, most recently, What If Everybody Understood Child Development?: Straight Talk About Bettering Education and Children's Lives. Rae has shared her expertise with such groups as the Sesame Street Research Department, the Head Start Bureau, Centers for Disease Control, the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, Nickelodeon's Blue's Clues, Gymboree, Nike, and state health departments throughout the country. She is a member of the executive committee of the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences and is co-founder of BAM Radio Network, where she hosts Studentcentricity, interviewing experts in education, child development, play research, the neurosciences, and more on teaching with students at the center.

  • Guest
    Peggy Ashbrook Thursday, 05 November 2015

    Thank you for the conversation, Rae, Beth and Deborah!
    Here's a link to the The Early Childhood Science Education position statement, written and adopted by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and endorsed by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC):
    I hope listeners will join the NAEYC's Early Childhood Science Interest Forum, come to the annual meeting at the national conferences, and participate in the NSTA's Early Childhood Forum in the Learning Center: http://learningcenter.nsta.org/

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  • Guest
    Hans Desjarlais Saturday, 28 November 2015

    Great post Rae! Love your blog and will keep following.

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