Science exploration and discovery is not limited to one area of the classroom and can take place indoors or outdoors. Children’s interests tend toward finding out what things are and how things work, and they become engaged in activities that give them opportunities to explore and learn. As children work through experiments, examine objects, and talk about what is happening they are calling upon a variety of developmental skills, such as communication, counting, identification, and comparison. They are also using their senses and bodies as they manipulate tools and materials. Science learning crosses into each of the different learning domains in the early childhood setting.
Language and Literacy Development
Science is rich in language and provides many opportunities for vocabulary development and engaging in conversations with others. As children participate in meaningful science activities, they talk about what is happening, their observations, and their predictions. They listen to others’ ideas and formulate their own based on prior experiences and knowledge. They express themselves through spoken and written communication and learn to document information using graphs, charts, journals, and drawings. Science activities can also be enriched by sharing fiction and nonfiction books and incorporating songs and fingerplays into the lessons.
Social and Emotional Development
Science experiences can be individual, small-group, or large-group oriented, meeting the social and/or emotional needs of children in different ways. For example, a science activity might have children hunting for insects with a group, chasing a partner’s shadow, or silently contemplating a spider crawling up a downspout. In each case, the child’s experience might be the same or different from others in the group, but all of the children belong to the community of learners represented by the class.
Besides learning to discuss and formulate ideas, children can use science principles to resolve conflicts that may arise. By viewing the situation as a scientific experiment, children can find answers to such questions as, “What is involved in this situation?”, “What would happen if we did…?”, and “What things can we try to make this better?”
It has also been observed that children involved in scientific endeavors become so engaged in their explorations and discovery that disruptive behavior completely diminishes (Conezio and French). Instead, cooperation increases as children work together to solve problems, reach conclusions, and document findings.
Science and math go hand-in-hand because they utilize many of the same principles: counting, measurement, describing attributes, shapes, colors, and textures, as well as the use of the five senses. Use of standard measurement tools such as rulers and balance scales is commonplace in science activities, and both math and science share vocabulary words such as volume, dimension, and set.
Children involved in science exploration can use artistic renditions, such as drawings and collages, to document what they are learning about a concept or subject. Three-dimensional art, such as sculpting or constructing, is also useful for science documentation. Expressing their science understanding in artistic ways serves to develop childrens’documentation skills as well as their creative skills.
Young children develop fine-and gross-motor skills through science. Using various scientific tools engages both the large muscles of the arms and legs and the small muscles of the hands and fingers. As children examine objects under a magnifying glass, for example, they are using their fingers to grip the magnifying glass and manipulate the object they are observing while also using their arm to move the magnifying glass for better viewing. The small muscles of the hands are also used when children write and draw about their science experiences.
Science in the Preschool Classroom: Capitalizing on Children’s Fascination with the Everyday World to Foster Language and Literacy Development, Kathleen Conezio and Lucia French, Spotlight on Young Children and Science, NAEYC item #281, 2003