Preschool children have an innate drive to explore and make sense of the world around them. Teachers can set the stage for children to become curious and confident young scientists by sharing in their interest and excitement and providing opportunities for them to engage in the practices of science.
Teachers help children develop the dispositions of a scientist through active engagement in the practices of science. These dispositions include curiosity, persistence, motivation to answer questions and solve problems, and interest in real discovery. As preschool teachers work with children to help them answer questions such as what makes a shadow, they are involving them in the use of science practices. When they support them in the work of solving a problem such as how to connect a wagon to a tricycle so one friend can pull another, they are helping them learn about practices of engineering design. The science standards integrate science and engineering practices, along with technology and mathematics, to help children learn more about their world.
Children who participate in active investigations to learn about their environment and experiences are engaging in the real work of scientists. They are asking questions, investigating, and trying out their ideas to find answers. They begin to construct new ways of thinking by talking about their experiences with other children and interested adults. Just as adult scientists do, preschool children can make careful observations, collect and record data, and share their findings with others. For example, they may create a simple chart to keep track of which objects roll down a ramp and which objects slide.
Preschoolers engage in engineering design when they solve the problem of a ramp that keeps falling down by building it differently. They may use the science practice of modeling as they work with a friend to create drawings of their ideas for making a big ramp outside. With an interested adult, they may reflect on their experiences and think of new possibilities to try. This process of actively exploring and investigating, communicating and thinking about what they have discovered, and trying additional ideas lays the foundation for a solid, experiential understanding of important core ideas of science and the practices of science and engineering. In addition, children use skills such as observation and problem solving—integrated with ideas from art, mathematics, and language development—to deepen their understanding of science.
When teachers provide opportunities for children to sit quietly and watch the movements of a snail or to assess the weather and decide if a jacket is needed, they are helping children develop curiosity, the skills of observation, and other practices of science. When teachers encourage a group of children to keep trying as they attempt to move a big log to a shadier spot, they are helping children develop persistence as well as skills in problem solving and cooperation—the practices of engineering. When caring adults respond thoughtfully to children’s questions and encourage them to investigate possible answers or solve problems, they are helping them develop initiative and creativity—the dispositions of scientists and engineers. When teachers challenge children with open-ended science investigations, they allow children across the range of developmental levels typically present in preschool classrooms to share in the excitement of learning. Most importantly, when adults support children in active scientific inquiry, everyone shares in the wonder and delight of discovery.
In Drew’s integrated preschool special education classroom, he makes sure that all of the children are challenged at just the right level for their capabilities. He has found that science explorations are a wonderful way for him to individualize experiences so that each child gains from the investigation. He can incorporate the IEP goals for his students with special needs and, at the same time, meet the needs of the peer models in his class. Recently, the children in Drew’s class noticed changes in the mulch on the playground after heavy rains for several days. They saw shallow trenches that had been created by the flow of water. Drew talked with them about the rain and the power of water and suggested they do some water explorations themselves. They were all interested! In the classroom, he set up his sensory table with mulch and dirt and encouraged children to explore what happened when they poured water from different containers onto the mulch. Over several days, they experimented with small and large cups, watering cans, and large pitchers—with every child pouring water and watching the reaction. Children with more language capabilities described what they saw while others used a word here or there or pointed and gestured. Jason, a child with special needs, repeatedly said “Water” as he poured from the different containers. Susannah, his constant friend, said, “You’re pouring the water, huh, Jason? See, it’s making a puddle in the dirt.” Jason reached into the puddle and splashed with his fingertips. Drew said, “It’s wet, isn’t it, Jason? And, look. Now your fingertips are brown.” Jason studied his fingers and grinned, then went to the sink and washed his hands. Throughout the investigation, Drew took photos of the children at the sensory table and charted the results of the experiments with them. They noted that the large pitcher had created the most changes in the mulch and dirt and drew pictures of the results, some with scribbles and some with more representation. Drew created a display with the photos and drawings to show families about the investigation.
Example Performance Descriptors can be found on the List of goals, standards, and benchmarks page.
Goal 11: Demonstrate curiosity about the world and begin to use the practices of science and engineering to answer questions and solve problems.
Learning Standard 11.A: Develop beginning skills in the use of science and engineering practices, such as observing, asking questions, solving problems, and drawing conclusions.
- 11.A.ECa: Express wonder and curiosity about their world by asking questions, solving problems, and designing things.
- 11.A.ECb: Develop and use models to represent their ideas, observations, and explanations through approaches such as drawing, building, or modeling with clay.
- 11.A.ECc: Plan and carry out simple investigations.
- 11.A.ECd: Collect, describe, compare, and record information from observations and investigations.
- 11.A.ECe: Use mathematical and computational thinking.
- 11.A.ECf: Make meaning from experience and information by describing, talking, and thinking about what happened during an investigation.
- 11.A.ECg: Generate explanations and communicate ideas and/or conclusions about their investigations.
Goal 12: Explore concepts and information about the physical, earth, and life sciences.
Learning Standard 12.A: Understand that living things grow and change.
Learning Standard 12.B: Understand that living things rely on the environment and/or others to live and grow.
Learning Standard 12.C: Explore the physical properties of objects.
Learning Standard 12.D: Explore concepts of force and motion.
Learning Standard 12.E: Explore concepts and information related to the Earth, including ways to take care of our planet.
Learning Standard 12.F: Explore changes related to the weather and seasons.
- 12.F.ECa: Observe and discuss changes in weather and seasons using common vocabulary.
Goal 13: Understand important connections and understandings in science and engineering.
Learning Standard 13.A: Understand rules to follow when investigating and exploring.
- 13.A.ECa: Begin to understand basic safety practices one must follow when exploring and engaging in science and engineering investigations.
Learning Standard 13.B: Use tools and technology to assist with science and engineering investigations.
The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and the Illinois Learning Standards for Science (K-12) were consulted in revising the IELDS Science standards.