Children Learning in Science

Need for an Intensive and Systematic Approach

Science and children are a natural fit. Anyone who has spent time with young children knows that they are innately curious and motivated to engage in inquiry using all their senses.

Just like young scientists, they seek out new experiences, conduct investigations and observations, collect data, look for patterns and relationships, and generate theories to explain the world and how it works based on evidence.

Topics in physical science, life science, and earth science provide rich content for children’s inquiry, as well as a context for integrated learning across the domains of mathematics, language, and literacy.

Investigations of Water, Structures, and Nature introduce children to the “big ideas” that will provide the foundation for their later science learning. It is now well-established that children’s early experiences also play a key role in cognitive development and learning. We now know that opportunities to explore the world, as well as time to reflect on their explorations and observations, are essential for young children’s brain development.

These hands-on and minds-on experiences are also critical for exercising children’s reasoning and problem-solving abilities (Michaels, Shouse, & Schweingruber, 2008).

Young children are innately curious.

At every opportunity they explore the world around them, observing and investigating objects, materials, and events that capture their interest. Even before they enter school, children have acquired substantial knowledge of the natural world, and generated their own ideas about how and why the world works the way it does.

Although these early ideas may include preconceptions like “shaking leaves cause the wind” and “all big things float,” such thinking is the result of reasoned inferences based on evidence from their own experiences. It is these experiences that

form the foundation on which later science understanding is developed. An emerging body of literature indicates that all young children, regardless of their backgrounds, have the capacity to learn science, especially when their explorations and reflections are intentionally structured and supported by knowledgeable teachers.

In addition, opportunities to “do science” promote the development of scientific processes and practices as children explore cause and effect, make predictions, collect and record data, and engage in collaborative reflection during science conversations.

FSL incorporates the following assumptions about young children’s science education:

  • 1. Science explorations are rooted in children’s interests, questions, and ideas about the natural world. Investigations begin with children’s questions and focus on uncovering children’s ideas based on evidence from their own explorations.
  • 2. Direct experiences are central to children’s science explorations. Children have many opportunities to directly observe and explore the objects, materials, events, and living things in their own environments.
  • 3. Science learning is an active process. Children participate in the processes and practices of science as they ask questions, make observations, try things out, develop and test their ideas, collect information, and think about what they observed and discovered.
  • 4. Opportunities for children to explore their ideas across time and across different settings are ongoing. For example, while learning about the life cycle of plants, children plant seeds, observe and measure plant growth, and compare the growth of different plants. They also look at plants around their neighborhood and visit a local plant store or nursery.
  • 5. Opportunities for children to communicate about what they are doing, noticing, and finding out are critical to conceptual development in science. Children are invited to think and talk about their explorations and ideas with others. They have materials available to represent their ideas through drawing, painting, and/or making 3-D models.

Michaels, S., Shouse, A. W., & Schweingruber, H. A. (2008). Ready, set, science! Putting research to work in K-8 science classrooms. Washington, DC: National Research Council.