Early Years Science Education: Science Process Skills and Positive Attitudes

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.[1] Early experiences of science improve children’s later learning outcomes and scientific vocabulary.[2]

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.[3]

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.[4] 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.[5] Mastering basic level science process skills has been proven to benefit children’s learning outcomes and motivation.[6] 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.[7] 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


[1] Mantzicopoulos, Patrick & Samarapungavan, 2008; Nayfeld, Brenneman, & Gelman, 2011

[2] Guo, Wang, Hall, Breit-Smith, & Busch, 2016; Leuchter, Saalbach & Hardy, 2014; Spektor-Levy, Baruch & Mevarech, 2013; Maltese & Tai, 2010

[3] Inan & Inan, 2015

[4] Samarapungavan, Patrick & Mantzicopoulos, 2011; Peterson & French, 2008

[5] Kuhn, Black, Keselman & Kaplan, 2000

[6] Greenfield et al., 2009; Sackes, 2013

[7] Howes, 2008



Greenfield, D. B., Jirout, J., Dominguez, X., Greenberg, A., Maier, M., & Fuccillo, J. (2009). Science in the preschool classroom: A programmatic research agenda to improve science readiness. Early Education and Development20(2), 238-264.

Guo, Y., Wang, S., Hall, A. H., Breit-Smith, A., & Busch, J. (2016). The effects of science instruction on young children’s vocabulary learning: A research synthesis. Early Childhood Education Journal, 44(4), 359-367.

Howes, E. V. (2008). Educative experiences and early childhood science education: A Deweyan perspective on learning to observe. Teaching and teacher education24(3), 536-549.

Inan, H. Z., & Inan, T. (2015). 3 H s Education: Examining hands-on, heads-on and hearts-on early childhood science education. International Journal of Science Education37(12), 1974-1991.

Kuhn, D., Black, J., Keselman, A., & Kaplan, D. (2000). The development of cognitive skills to support inquiry learning. Cognition and Instruction18(4), 495-523.

Leuchter, M., Saalbach, H., & Hardy, I. (2014). Designing Science Learning in the First Years of Schooling. An intervention study with sequenced learning material on the topic of ‘floating and sinking’. International Journal of Science Education36(10), 1751-1771.

Maltese, A. V., & Tai, R. H. (2010). Eyeballs in the fridge: Sources of early interest in science. International Journal of Science Education32(5), 669-685.

Mantzicopoulos, P., Patrick, H., & Samarapungavan, A. (2008). Young children’s motivational beliefs about learning science. Early Childhood Research Quarterly23(3), 378-394.

Nayfeld, I., Brenneman, K., & Gelman, R. (2011). Science in the classroom: Finding a balance between autonomous exploration and teacher-led instruction in preschool settings. Early Education & Development22(6), 970-988.

Peterson, S. M., & French, L. (2008). Supporting young children’s explanations through inquiry science in preschool. Early childhood research quarterly23(3), 395-408.

Saçkes, M. (2013). Children’s competencies in process skills in kindergarten and their impact on academic achievement in third grade. Early Education & Development24(5), 704-720.

Samarapungavan, A., Patrick, H., & Mantzicopoulos, P. (2011). What kindergarten students learn in inquiry-based science classrooms. Cognition and Instruction29(4), 416-470.

Spektor-Levy, O., Baruch, Y. K., & Mevarech, Z. (2013). Science and Scientific Curiosity in Pre-school—The teacher’s point of view. International Journal of Science Education35(13), 2226-2253.

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