This week we are focusing on science and what better way to kick it off than talking about what teaching science to young kids looks like with Amanda Morgan from Not Just Cute. Amanda is a child development consultant who enjoys teaching teachers and parents about how kids learn and the best ways to teach. Visit her blog here.
I love talking to preschool teachers about teaching science. Though I don’t often start out that way.
I ask them about their favorite themes and activities to teach the kids in their preschool classrooms. Soon we fill an entire board with topics enthusiastically scrawled in colorful marker. They’re the activities found in preschool classrooms everywhere. Color mixing. Trees. Playdough. Dress-up. And on and on.
And then I ask, “What do these topics and activities have to do with science?”
Then looks that say, “You didn’t say science activities, you just said activities.”
So we table the list for a moment, and talk about what science is really all about.
What is science?
When I’m trying to define science, it’s hard to beat this quote from Kathleen Conezio, MS and Lucia French, PhD
“Whereas many adults think of science as a discrete body of knowledge, for young children science is finding out about the everyday world that surrounds them. This is exactly what they are interested in doing, all day, every day. In the preschool classroom or in the university research laboratory, science is an active and open-ended search for new knowledge. It involves people working together in building theories, testing those theories, and then evaluating what worked, what didn’t, and why.”
(And here’s my favorite part…)
“Science itself is not an activity, but an approach to doing an activity. This approach involves a process of inquiry – theorizing, hands-on investigation, and discussion.”
(Source: Capitalizing on Children’s Fascination with the Everyday World to Foster Language and Literacy Development. Young Children, September 2002)
So science isn’t the activity. It isn’t the textbook. It isn’t the supplies. It’s an approach.
Science happens every day in every corner of a preschool classroom and in every inch of a preschooler’s home. It’s more about curiosity and discovery than about a set of facts to be learned. Science is the essence of learning to learn.
As I interviewed Ellen Galinsky about her book, Mind in the Making she said, “We are very content-focused in education right now. I feel strongly that we won’t turn around the slippage that has been happening in education unless we focus on both content and life skills as well as promote learning that keeps the fire burning in children’s eyes.”
Content does matter. Having a grasp of information is important, of course. But in this age, perhaps more than ever before, information is so accessible that it’s critical to keep children passionately curious — able to make connections, and use information, not just recite it. We must light the fire, not just fill the pail, as Yeats would say.
Think of the great minds of our more recent history. From Thomas Edison to Albert Einstein to Steve Jobs, amazing accomplishments have come not from knowing something no one else knew, but from using known information in new ways to do something different. Something brilliant.
Facts without curiosity, connections, and creativity can be found easily from any smart phone or laptop with access to Google. But light that fire Galinsky talks about and let passionate learners wonder, theorize, explore, and play and ingenuity is born.
As Steve Jobs is known to have said:
“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.”
Kids don’t need more content, they need more experiences. And they need more time thinking and talking about those experiences. They need to be immersed in a culture of scientific inquiry.
Where’s the Science?
So back to the board full of favorite classroom activities. Where is the science? It’s in every single one of them. It’s in the experience. It’s in the connections. It comes when we have a lively classroom or home where we question and wonder aloud. A place where we observe, and discuss, and experiment, and apply. It’s in the mindset, the approach to the world.
Science is everywhere in the classroom.
Science is found at the playdough table when a child sinks her hands into squishy playdough and observes how it can move and bend. It’s there when she wonders what will happen when she adds toothpicks, experiments with that, observes again, and continues the process end on end.
It’s at the easel when a child observes one color streaking the page and then wonders what will happen when another color is added.
It’s in the block area when a teacher asks the children to tell her about what they’ve built, and then wonders aloud about what would happen if another block was added on top of the teetering tower.
It’s in circle time when children ask what words mean, and when teachers take the time not just to explain but to have the children act it out. It’s there when teachers read stories and ask what might happen next.
Science is everywhere in our homes.
Science is there when we make muffins with our kids and give them experience using measuring tools and wondering about the process of turning soggy batter into bready deliciousness.
It’s in our own backyards when we bend close with our little ones to hold a rolly-polly in our hands or chase fireflies on a summer’s night.
It’s there at bath time when our kids pour water from one container to the next, then drop bath toys in one by one, watching to see which will float.
Science offers an open invitation to each of us every single day. An invitation to wonder.
When we incorporate a mindset of inquiry — asking, theorizing, experiencing, experimenting, observing, discussing — every aspect of every day can be filled with the magical wonder of science.
We are exploring science for kids all week long and you can find more ideas on our Science for Kids Pinterest Board!