Every Child a Scientist

We took Little E to the Natural History Museum this weekend.  He loved it.  Seeing his interest has started me thinking more about how I can nurture his innate curiosity.  Children seem to be natural scientists: inquiring, determining relationships, classifying, etc.

Even more than learning facts and theories, the clarity of thought and curiosity about the world the scientific processes foster are important skills I want my children to develop.

"It is much more important for parents to help children develop the skills they need to think like scientists than to help them understand complex scientific concepts. Even the youngest children are quite capable of beginning to build these skills." - PBS Parents

The Journal, Young Children, published this list of the benefits of teaching science to young children:
  1. Science responds to children’s need to learn about the world around them.
  2. Children’s everyday experience is the foundation for science.
  3. Open-ended science activities involve children at a wide range of developmental levels.
  4. Hands-on science activities let teachers observe and respond to children’s individual strengths and needs.
  5. The scientific approach of trial and error welcomes error and interprets it as valuable information, not as failure. 
  6. Science strongly supports language and literacy. 
  7. Science helps children with limited language to participate in the classroom and learn English.
  8. The problem-solving skills of science easily generalize to social situations.
  9. Science demonstrations help children become comfortable in large group conversations.
  10. Science connects easily to other areas, including center-based play, math, artistic expression, and social studies.
So, I know that it is important to teach science, but how do I teach science to a 2 year old?  Especially when I never really liked science as a young person?

In the online version of Wired, Jonah Lehrer shares a recent research project in which two groups of 4 year-olds were introduced to a new toy.  

"The first group of students was shown the toy by a scientist who declared that she’d just found it on the floor. Then, as she revealed the toy to the kids, she “accidentally” pulled one of the tubes and made it squeak. Her response was sheer surprise: “Huh! Did you see that? Let me try to do that again!” The second group, in contrast, got a very different presentation. Instead of feigning surprise, the scientist acted like a typical teacher. She told the students that she’d gotten a new toy and that she wanted to show them how it worked. Then, she deliberately made the toy squeak."

Then the children were allowed to play with the toy.  All the children copied the action of the scientist.  But, then the first group continued to play with the toy and discover the other things it did.  The second group didn't try to see if the toy would do anything else. 

"According to the psychologists, the different reactions were caused by the act of instruction. When students are given explicit instructions, when they are told what they need to know, they become less likely to explore on their own. Curiosity is a fragile thing."

Some additional resources for early childhood science ideas:
Preparing for Preschool
Hands on Science

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