One of the hallmarks of young children is their relentlessly inquisitive nature. Even as babies, children are beginning to explore how the world works, and that disposition persists throughout early childhood. That makes the early developmental period an ideal time to expose young children to science. As The Edvocate notes, the foundational parts of science and the scientific method are “question, observation, hypothesis, experiment, test results, (and) conclusion.” Children “as young as 2 or 3 (years old) are strongly showing these behaviors,” according to research from Columbia University. Early childhood educators can foster a positive attitude and approach to science education by tapping into these natural impulses.
Young children are in a powerful developmental window, as additional research also suggests that by the age of seven, “most children have developed either a positive or negative attitude towards science education that will remain entrenched,” per this post from the childcare blog First Discoverers.
A positive attitude toward science education will serve students well in academics and life. The scientific method is a problem-solving process applicable across virtually any role, industry, or profession. Possessing strong critical-thinking and inquiry skills is an asset that will endure throughout adulthood.
This information emphasizes the value of introducing children to science as early as possible. But how can educators effectively engage these young learners in ways that are interesting and meaningful to them? Below are some effective methods to help children nurture their natural curiosities and develop a positive approach to science education:
Maximize Opportunities for Children to Act as Scientists
Children’s natural curiosities are not always easy to manage for adults. These impulses can be “messy, noisy or inconvenient,” as this post from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) writes, but they are also critical to the learning process. They give children a necessary entry point to begin exploring. Thus, adults must facilitate this kind of inquiry by “creating safe environments for curious hands,” according to the NAEYC. This means helping to provide materials and items that are responsive to children’s inquiry process.
Validate Children’s Curiosities and Ideas
Another way to cultivate an interest in science education is by actively engaging with children’s questions. With the number of questions children often ask, it can be tempting to placate them or explain away a concept that even adults might not completely understand. Instead of choosing that route, the NAEYC suggests flipping the question back on children, giving them a chance to explain. Or, educators can take things a step further, admit they do not know, and help children search for an answer. This principle also applies to implicit questions: pay attention to what captures children’s attention and help them to dig further.
Encourage and Assist With Scientific Inquiry
A guided inquiry-based approach is one of the most effective ways educators can help students engage with science concepts. This strategy gives learners agency over their work while providing proper scaffolding to lead them through an activity. This same approach can be effective for early science learners as well. Instead of simply discussing or explaining concepts, “bring the joy of inquiry” to them. Guidance and a safe environment are obviously still crucial, but exposure to the basic elements of inquiry-based practice goes a long way toward empowering and inspiring young science learners.
Students in the online Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Early Childhood Education program at Worcester State University will learn powerful practices for teaching science in early childhood education. The curriculum also shows students how to identify, utilize, and evaluate technology and media that is both engaging and age-appropriate for early childhood learners.
The program coursework includes relevant opportunities, such as the Exploring Science in Early Childhood Education course, which focuses on instructional methods that foster learning, discovery, and making connections across subjects.