How to Develop Young Inquisitive Minds through Science

August 9, 2017

Children are natural born scientists in their own unique ways. From birth, they are curious, natural explores whether they are by looking around or cooing. When they start to speak they engage others with words, then questions and comments about what they experience and see.

Young minds have the ability to observe, explore, and question almost everything and anything taking place in their environments. But what does it take to ensure young children are engaged in their full potential to explore the world around them through science? Early childhood educators must be prepared to provide meaningful learning experiences for young children. It starts by identifying and build children’s skills and abilities through conceptual learning. This takes place in science learning when information is organized in logical mental structures.

Why is science important to these young learners?

Dr. David Evans, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, spoke with me about the importance of incorporating science within the early childhood education setting when it comes to teaching science to young children through developmentally appropriate practices.

Even very young children are capable of understanding science. Encouraging them when they are young is important to engaging and exploring the natural world and improving language skills. Through science, they learn to expect results, observe cause and effect, and discover evidence or explanation for what is happening, and the ability to ask questions, says Evans.

What are some simple things that educators can do to engage children through science?

Science is a really natural way to engage kids and it is a strong way to explore phenomena in the environment. Whether it is looking for bugs under rocks or exploring the physical world, kids are naturally curious about what is happening around them even before teachers begin instruction. The shift is really to encourage kids to ask questions and explore those questions through teaching and discussion. If kids learn that way when they are young, this will lead their development and help guide their inquiries so they develop an understanding of science, explains Evans.

Science Activities for Children from Birth to Five1

Teaching children science encourages them to examine the physical properties of materials and objects, living things (people, plants, and animals), and the earth and environment. Here are some ways you can introduce infants to these concepts:

  • Include growing plants (caution: check which are safe for young children)
  • Include living things like an aquarium with fish
  • Use and explain scientific words such as “observe, describe, compare, contrast, and experiment” when talking with children during a science activity
  • Offer sensory experiences with natural substances like sand and water
  • Observe scientific phenomena together: “The sun is out and the snow is starting to melt.”

Toddlers and preschoolers can begin to understand and apply the concepts you have introduced. Try some of these strategies to teach science content:

  • Provide an environment that invites exploration: stock the science center with tools like magnifying glasses, tweezers, scales, binoculars, and things to explore, like leaves, twigs, bones, seed pods, feathers, pine cones, prisms.
  • Help children to make charts representing data from their experiments on topics such as the colors of leaves, how tall plants grew, how long it took a block of ice to melt, etc.
  • Encourage children to make predictions: For instance, if you plant a vegetable garden, ask “How long will it take the carrots in our garden to appear?”
  • Measure shadows at different times of the day; ask how shadows are made
  • Observe animals outdoors in their natural habitats – ask what they see (observation) them doing
  • Pose challenges, such as “how can you turn the red paint into a different color?” or “what will happen to the popcorn when you put it in the microwave?”

Science teaches children about the world they live in, helps to explain certain occurrences, and poses questions about other phenomena. It develops children’s cognitive ability to inquire and understand why things happen, when, and most importantly, how these concepts affect them and their lives as humans. Additionally, it provides them with knowledge about their environments (plants, animals, water, precipitation, etc.) and it prepares them to explore and be prepared to understand more complex subject within science as they go on to kindergarten.

1 Washington, V. (2017). Essentials for Working with Young Children (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: The Council for Professional Recognition. NEED Page references to help the reader understand where the information came from.

David Evans 2Dr. David L. Evans

As the Executive Director of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), Dr. Evans heads the world’s largest professional organization representing science educators of all grade levels. Prior to joining NSTA, Dr. Evans held various positions in science-related fields, including Director of the Center for Sustainability: Earth, Energy, and Climate at Noblis, Inc.; Under Secretary for Science at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.; Assistant Administrator for Oceanic & Atmospheric Research, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration; Deputy Assistant Administrator, National Marine Fisheries Service; and Senior Scientist and Deputy Assistant Administrator, National Ocean Services. In 2001, Dr. Evans led the White House Global Climate Change Initiative, coordinating related activities of some 12 federal agencies. Before coming to Washington, D.C. in the mid-1980s, Dr. Evans was a tenured professor of oceanography at the University of Rhode Island and was a classroom teacher in Media, Pa. He holds a Ph.D. in oceanography from the University of Rhode Island and a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of Pennsylvania.


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