Between 10th – 18th August, the nation celebrates National Science Week which provides the optimal platform to launch new science projects.
Visit https://www.scienceweek.net.au/ for further information and resources.
Children are innately curious beings and are eager to make understandings of the world around them. In order to support children’s scientific thinking, educators need to see children as active learners and allow plenty of time and space to explore and experiment. Early engagement in science stimulates the development of children’s identity as a science learner and an active participant in the processes of science.
Science in the early years can often be neglected due to educators’ perceptions of science being too directed, too theoretical, too messy and just too difficult. We know that many educators lack confidence and have a limited knowledge base of science teaching, however with a willingness and understanding of how science concepts can be explored together, educators can work with children to promote scientific inquiry (McNerney & Hall, 2016).
Viewing children as active agents in their own learning ensures children engage in “sciencing” rather than simply being a passive learner of scientific facts.
Sciencing involves being a hands-on, minds-on inquisitive learner who investigates and makes meaning of the world around them through discovery.
Developing content, processes and dispositions are key goals for educators to enhance science learning in the early years.
- Content includes the body of knowledge that represents what children know about the world around them. (EYLF Outcome 4.4)
- Processes are the active skills children develop such as predicting, observing, classifying, hypothesizing, experimenting, researching, problem-solving, researching and investigating. (EYLF Outcome 4.2)
- Dispositions include curiosity, persistence, commitment and enthusiasm to drive investigations and challenge theories. (EYLF Outcome 4.1)
Malaguzzi states that “they follow children’s tread of interest, build the science content and skills on that interest, and create a curriculum ‘from’ children not ‘for’ children (Zeynep İnan, 2018).
During the early years, children are natural scientists who ask questions about every aspect of the world around them. Some of the key science content and concepts that are explored during these years include:
- Systems e.g. parts of the human body; ecosystems (where animals and plants live interdependently)
- Models e.g. word descriptions or drawings; physical models
- Constancy and Change e.g. seed to plant; different seasons; growth and decay
- Scale e.g. size; distance; quantity; weight
- Patterns and Relationships e.g. properties of materials; alike and different comparisons; patterns in nature
- Cause and Effect e.g. shadows; freezing/melting; gravity
- Structure and Function e.g. makeup of plants and animals; tools; eating utensils
- Variations e.g. sounds; colours
- Diversity e.g. seeds; leaves; living organisms
The Role of the Educator
Educators play a critical role in co-constructing knowledge through intentional teaching experiences as well as spontaneous interactions with children. Responding to children as they build and test their own theories by scaffolding their learning, asking open-ended questions and providing resources encourages further investigation and continues to develop their knowledge and skills.
Finding a balance of knowing when and how to intervene in children’s exploration and shifting between various roles of observer, facilitator and scaffolder is a challenging task. Educators need to be responsive to children’s ideas, which form a basis for future curriculum decision-making. “Responsiveness enables educators to respectfully enter children’s play and ongoing projects, stimulate their thinking and enrich their learning” (DEEWR, 2009, p. 15).
Creating both an indoor and outdoor environment that invites a sense of wonder offers children a space where they can imagine, investigate and hypothesise. Introducing provocations to stimulate curiosity can be an effective way for children to use their imagination and initiate further exploration of scientific concepts.
Scientists use a range of process skills to acquire information and to understand how the world works. Focusing on skills such as observing, classifying, communicating, measuring and recording extends children’s learning not only in science, but creates potential to integrate mathematics, literacy, creative arts and technology.
Young children need quality science learning experiences that are relevant to their lives. An inquiry-based approach allows educators to scaffold children’s learning for children to make sense of what they already know and what they are learning. Centring children in their own learning journey allows them to be the discoverers, experimenters and theory-builders in order to arrive at new and wonderous ideas.