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Rebecca

Can pre-school children learn to do science?

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Before Christmas, Natalie Day, from the PEDAL research centre at Cambridge University shared some of her research regarding science and play in early years. It was a fascinating article and showed how much children can lead their own learning when given the opportunity. If you missed her article you can catch it again from here: What can Play contribute to Early Years Science?

 

Yesterday, in the Guardian, scientist Jenny Rohn posed this question: Can pre-school children learn to do science? In her article Jenny wonders whether the science we do in early years (making bicarb volcanoes for example) 'counts' as science becasue although it gives children different experiences it doesn't teach them to identify and test a hypothesis, which is 'proper' science.

She says "In the UK at least, learning and development from birth through to the age of five is governed by the of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework. “Understanding The World” is a specific area in this framework, covering the stimulation of the five senses, and encouraging exploration. From my experience with my son’s nursery, this curriculum is usually expressed as arts and crafts: bubble play, painting with plants as brushes, making ice cubes with things trapped inside them. The children love it, but it’s not quite what I have in mind when I think of doing science"

 

Read Jenny's article and let us know what you think! Can pre-school children learn to do science?

 

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This article and the earlier one on schema are closely linked. I'm coming out and saying that toddlers and preschoolers can't do science in the way the author suggests they might or should. They need good, solid knowledge and understanding of their worlds. Little people find a problem that interests them and maybe become fixated on that problem until they find a solution that fits in with their view of the world. It's our job to identify their questions (their schema) and provide opportunities for the child to discover scientifically correct and meaningful solutions to their problems in a timely way. Child at the centre of the learning. Doesn't mean to say that we shouldn't be making bombs out of bicarb and vinegar - that's just good honest fun, and so is 'Science' when you're bigger.

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I think preschoolers are natural Scientists. I have not yet read the article but the suggestion that "....... doesn't teach them to identify and test a hypothesis, which is 'proper' science." I would argue is not correct. A hypothesis is a question and i m sure that we can all come out with questions which the children have tested out. If any of of you have ever tried to make Kipper's birthday cake with ingredients suggested by the children and then let them guess what will happen. Or even make a cake and ask if it will cook like a cake if we put it in the fridge instead of the oven. These are adult lead. But just observing the children play when the find and ant and they follow it to find it's home. I've seen children building a home for it using their knowledge of the the 3 pigs story. It is basic testing and hypothesising but it is there.

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I think I agree with LKEYTEACH. To me, science is about investigation and children are natural investigators. It may look 'different' at this age but it's building that interest to take and expand ideas.

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I think I agree with LKEYTEACH. To me, science is about investigation and children are natural investigators. It may look 'different' at this age but it's building that interest to take and expand ideas.

agree - some children are "natural investigators" and want to know/find out what will happen if they do/if this happens ........ and like to use adults as their support/information supply.

I have several children (boys) who are constantly investigating the outdoor area for bugs etc., and as said want to find out where they live so watch them - want to know what they eat and how etc., - somethings they can observe themselves and others they need an adult / simple books etc.,

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kind of feel that this is a bit like maths in early years...i don't really think people undertsand what it looks like (as per LKeyteach says)

 

I did do some science at school and often find myself refering to biology/physics and chemistry classes (little did i know i would need them!) but also supplemented by general knowledge and some social science info ...I often have conversations with children about germs/insects (including sub categories of arachnids etc!!) physics of velocity and viscosity, local geography and history etc etc even having in depth conversations about gravity and the biology of the body!!

I do think that we need to be careful not to limit our childrens experiences and limit the language we use with them. Ublick is a fantastic medium but do we all know WHY it has those properties?? Do we know how glue works ? or what a ladybird larva looks like? just because we may not know ALL the info doesn't mean we can't pass on lots of investigative ideas/language and teach predictive skills..so yes I do think we can AND DO teach children science...maybe its the TO DO bit that's a problem in this question???

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Many years ago I enjoyed a Science in the Early Years course that was run by Cumbria Education. I went with the Reception teacher and we had an absolutely brilliant time. One of the experiments that sticks in my mind involved us all sitting with a chocolate button clasped in our hand whilst the instructor read Michel Rosen's poem about chocolate. Then we were allowed to open up our hand and see what had happened. Another experiment was using margarine in a pop bottle with hot water added to make a 'blobby lamp' type of thing. A lemonade bottle with some raisins dropped in. Trying to mix oil based paints in water, nail varnish marbling. Milk and dripped food colouring with a drop of washing up liquid. Lots of floating and sinking predicting and experimenting. The list goes on. Then there's the biology side of things, watching buds of leaves emerge from what looked like dead twigs. Growing cress, grass, sunflowers, beans etc. Having some minnows or goldfish to watch. Snails and cornflour in a tank. Digging for worms and beetles. Butterflies and birdwatching. All great fun, and yes, two-year-olds are just as captivated by it all as older children.

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yes, agree with Cait. Our children love when we have the caterpillars and look eagerly each day to see how they have changed and what is happening and the change into a butterfly. They often see more changes than we do as they look so closely each day.

We also had a boy who was obsessed when Tim Peake was in space - his parents supported this at home as well - he spoke knowingly about space, gravity etc.,and we used the lap top to support things we weren't sure about so we learnt lots too

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In a previous life I was the science and technology coordinator for the whole primary school, whilst teaching in Reception and Year 1. There is so much that can be done with any age child but I do think that the adults with them need the language and understanding themselves. I agree with the need to consider "why" as a key question and just doing stuff that demonstrates properties of materials isn't going to get to the heart of developing and harnessing what is actually, for me, the meaning of active learning. This doesn't mean just physically active but being actively engaged in the learning process itself - observing, asking questions and working out ways to answer them, plus capturing your methods and outcomes to evaluate them. So much of the UTW practice I see is limited because the adults somehow lack the science knowledge themselves. For me this was a key part of my BEd degree and preparation to be a teacher of 3-7s. I wonder how much this is is included in current training for any EYFS professional.

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