Young children have an inner motivation to explore and to find out how world around us functions. They observe, ask questions and make conclusions about simple causal relationships. However, children need an adult guidance to scaffold their conceptions about phenomena they meet in everyday life. This article discusses the aims and benefits of early introduction of science.
The positive effects of early introduction of science have been acknowledged in numerous studies. Giving children possibilities to get familiar with science, we can support the development of the child’s interest, motivation and positive attitudes towards science. Early experiences of science improve children’s later learning outcomes and scientific vocabulary.
However, not all experiences in science support children’s later learning outcomes. If science is introduced at a too abstract level, we can even harm children’s interest in science. Children should be provided with a possibility to engage in science activities with a 3H model: hands-on, heads-on and hearts-on.
In addition to providing children with possibilities to learn science by doing, their minds should be directed to tasks at a level that respects child’s stage of development. As a starting point for science education, children’s feelings can be activated by using the questions and wonderings children have. By allowing children to enjoy the science activities and manifesting even their smallest findings, we can support children’s feeling of competence as science learners.
Inquiry is widely used approach in science education also among younger children. Scientific inquiry is a multifaceted and complex process, which includes asking questions, planning the methods to find out answers to the questions, collecting and interpreting data, evaluating results, and drawing and representing conclusions. The process is iterative and some phases are repeated many times during the inquiry.
Adult always scaffolds inquiry process. This scaffolding happens through questions and hints that direct children’s thinking. Especially the learning of science process skills and thinking skills are important goals for young children’s inquiry-based science education. Mastering basic level science process skills has been proven to benefit children’s learning outcomes and motivation. Science process skills are essential in different parts of inquiry.
Basic level science process skills are observing, inferring, measuring, communicating, classifying, and making predictions. Observation is a skill, which all the other science process skills are based on. The observations made by children and the children’s descriptions of these observations are important to the teacher, so that child’s first experience about the phenomenon could be linked both to the child’s earlier world of experience and to the future experiences. When we have an idea of how young children describe their observations, it is possible to develop the activities used in science education, the extensions of activities, and pedagogical decisions of the learning environment.
Playfulness is an essential approach to early science education. Playfulness can be applied through different playful techniques, such as stories and drama-based inquiries. Children learn everything by playing – including science!
Writer: PhD Jenni Vartiainen, University of Helsinki, Department of Education
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