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Science Teachers: Help Kids as Young as Three Learn Science

Children as young as three have the capacity to learn science and engineering practices, according to a new position paper from the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). The NSTA issued the five-page "Early Childhood Science Education" statement to encourage parents, educators and policy makers to support programs and instruction among young children to create a "seamless transition" for learning in elementary school.

In the document, the NSTA unequivocally affirmed that "learning science and engineering practices in the early years can foster children's curiosity and enjoyment in exploring the world around them and lay the foundation for a progression of science learning in K–12 settings and throughout their entire lives.

"Research shows that children at a very young age are able to reason in a scientific way, but many times their abilities can be underestimated," said NSTA President Bill Badders. "We encourage parents, teachers, and other education providers to recognize the value and importance of nurturing children's curiosity and to provide quality experiences through play and exploration that focus on the content and practices of science."

What does that look like? The paper provides six principles for adults to follow in guiding the learning of science among young children:

  • Engage children in science by "asking questions, investigating and constructing explanations," in order to do conceptual learning and use the skills of reasoning and inquiry;
  • Support children's play and guide them, by directing their attention and scaffolding their experiences to support science learning;
  • Provide them with multiple and different kinds of experiences for exploration and discovery, for example, taking them to an outside learning center where they can investigate animals and insects, explore motion and examine textures;
  • Expose them to discovery in informal and formal settings, such as sessions put together by "knowledgeable adults" in preschool and in the natural environment for outdoor play or at home in the kitchen;
  • Give them time for "sustained engagement" by returning to the same topics and materials over the course of "weeks, months and years"; and
  • Allow them to do "experiential learning" in intentionally prepared environments where they can explore and investigate materials and "construct explanations and organize knowledge."

"There is a significant amount of energy at the local, state and national levels focused on early childhood education because it sets up children for success in the formal K-12 years," added Executive Director David Evans. "Science should be a part of learning opportunities for our youngest children, encouraging their natural curiosity and starting them as lifelong learners."

NSTA offers tips and classroom resources through its "Early Years" blog entries and publishes a series of picture books that teach science concepts.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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