Science in Early Learning: The Root of STEM Education

By: Diane Kashin, Ed. D, RECE. Young children have the capacity for scientific thinking and learning. Science, I would suggest is the root of the stem. Scientific skills such as observing, describing, comparing, questioning, predicting, experimenting, reflecting, and cooperating are core concepts that support learning in all areas. However, when I reflect back on the 120+ blog posts that I have written in the past 6 years, I realize that science has not been a frequent topic. I think back to my time as a practising early childhood educator and I recognize that science was not a focus of my program. I do remember having an indoor science centre that had an assortment of nature items, a magnifying glass or two and a couple of books. Clearly, there was something missing! There is a need to focus on science in early childhood educationScience is less emphasized in the early years and that is something we need to change! Science refers to a system for acquiring and maintaining a body of knowledge about things, people, and the environment. Acquiring knowledge requires a system that involves processes, content, and concepts. It involves observation and experimentation to continually refine, extend, and revise that body of knowledge. The processes through which knowledge is gained is known as scientific inquiry. The knowledge that comes as a result of scientific inquiry helps to explain the world around us through the process of questioning, predicting, investigating, analyzing, explaining, and communicating (Dietze & Kashin, 2018). What better way to learn about the world than to be outside in the natural world!

Science in early learning

Children gain competence in the processes of science while participating in meaningful scientific activities (Charlesworth, 2015). Scientific content includes the facts of science, is a basic part of science education, should not be the primary goal (Hoorn, Nourot, Scales, & Alward, 2011). Providing science experiences for children within a play-based learning environment should be the goal as it is the root of the stem! Children play with materials, play with ideas, and play with language as they build their scientific knowledge. They learn scientifically through observing, predicting, and analyzing. Children require a variety of materials in their play to influence their discoveries about and understanding of scientific concepts. Adults, who understand the unlimited possibilities of materials, are better able to provide children with opportunities to explore, discover, and create. Scientists know that in order to learn science, you have to experience science. Van Hoorn and colleagues (2011) believed that science opportunities in the early years should be similar to those of scientists involved in doing science. That means that, during play, children are more likely to become interested in science when they are in environments with early learning teachers who exhibit a sense of curiosity and zest for exploring and discovering.

Teachers and childre discovering

Play is learning and through scaffolding children’s scientific play experiences adults can support children as they learn. Scaffolding is a metaphor that refers to the ways in which adults or more sophisticated peers extend. Yes, it is a term associated with Lev Vygotsky as it connects to the zone of proximal development, but it also connects to the work of Jerome Bruner. Bruner advocated for children to be active rather than passive learners. To support children’s learning, Bruner’s modes of knowledge representation demonstrate ways to scaffold. Begin with providing children with opportunities to act on objects. The following table is from the newly published second edition of Playing and Learning in Early Childhood Education by Dietze and Kashin (2018).

Bruner's Modes of Knowledge Representation

Children are scientists at play. They are born scientists. When children make mud pies for baking or construct worm playgrounds, they are conducting playful experiments. Children are natural wonderers; they are full of wonder. They approach life with an openness and eagerness to know and to experience. What are the ways that you support children as scientists? Please share some of your ideas in the comment section of this blog.

We should not teach children the sciences; but give them a taste for them ~ Jean Jacques Rousseau  

3 thoughts on “Science in Early Learning: The Root of STEM Education

  1. We realize that most schools do not focus on science. Teachers often kill children’s inquiry by giving them targets to teach teaching goal, Actually that us for the sake of teachers not children.

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  2. You began your blog describing key concepts of science. Here is a quote from this exciting post, “Scientific skills such as observing, describing, comparing, questioning, predicting, experimenting, reflecting, and cooperating are core concepts that support learning in all areas.” I would challenge or perhaps highlights these key concepts are also verbs. Science is about doing the work. It’s about the heavy lifting of concepts in order to make meaning of the world. It is incumbent upon educators to engage in the verbs of science in order to be present and see the world from the eyes of the child. In doing so, the adult and child explore a phenomenon for a space of where they are at and grow their learning as a process and not a dead end street.

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  3. Pingback: My thoughts on the: STEM article – Tools To Educate

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