The “s” for “science” is left out in the pursuit of the “3 R’s” (e.g., “reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic”) as the foundation for an early childhood education curriculum. However, science is invaluable in education, especially in the daycare and preschool years. Science is more than just learning chemical equations and memorizing the bones of the body. It can also form a foundation for a richer understanding of the world and other subjects.
How Young Children Learn
Children in preschool learn best from experience, not from lectures. Early childhood education specialists agree that a hands-on approach to learning is more effective in this age group. Children are still developing their own verbal skills and usually can’t associate words with concepts unless they are actually demonstrated. Rather than being told something, they should be shown something, or even better yet, allowed to do it on their own. By allowing them sensory input while receiving verbal instruction, young children can interconnect things in their own way.
Science is Everywhere
Adults forget that children start out with a blank slate. To them the world is a vast science laboratory, where everything is a new experience. Every experience they have is a chance for them to learn a new concept. By growing a lima bean in a cup, a child can understand multiple things at once. They learn that light, air and water are needed for growth, demonstrating the relationship things have with their environment. It takes days for things to grow, showing the passage of time, counting and measuring, and encouraging patience. By giving their feedback, kids learn to verbalize their thoughts, describe events and compare them to others.
Repetition and Learning
It takes more than one session with a preschool child for them to understand a concept. Science dovetails neatly with this fact by expressing the same concept in several ways. Children love repetition, because repetition is reinforcement. Every time a child hears the same story or repeats the same kind of experience they learn something new. For example, a weeklong program on light and color might begin with putting food dye into and onto things and end with mixing paint colors. The child might think the first lesson “magical,” but by the final lesson, they can usually predict what will take place.
How to Integrate Science
There are many ways to integrate science into an otherwise dry curriculum, especially in early childhood. Preschool kids love to get involved and they learn better this way. For instance, in a math lesson about measurement the children can learn to measure out different substances (rice, sand, water). They will see how, although they all take up the same amount of space, they have different physical characteristics and properties. On the other hand, in an ongoing lesson about growth and change the children can discuss and note the various changes their caterpillar is undergoing, bonding the verbal, written and science realms together.
Making Science Accessible
Getting science and discovery into a preschool or daycare lesson plan is simple and inexpensive. Lessons can be changed into rich, sensory experiences with some planning and supplies. Sand, beans, rice, food dye, magnifying glasses, plastic cups, potting soil, flashlights, string, building blocks, etc. can be hoarded cheaply or via donations from parents. Practically anything can be used as a tool for a science experiment or demonstration with a lesson. By being allowed to do new things and experience the results of their actions, children form rich mental representations of non-verbal concepts.
Science is all around us, and preschool-aged children want to explore it. By captivating their attention and including their senses, children can gain more from their lessons in areas other than just science. A well-rounded early childhood development curriculum will have science and exploration prominently placed, ensuring faster and better-rounded learning.