Can you spot the science in the photos above? One of the pictures are from a bird beak investigations we conducted this week, a planned science activity related to our classroom study of birds, yet others depict science and inquiry opportunities embedded in everyday classroom activities and experiences with nature.
The National Science Education Standards emphasize that inquiry into questions generated by students should be a primary focus of science education for young children. With this in mind, the challenge for educators is to create classroom environments that inspire children to make careful observations, generate questions, test hypothesis and make meaning of the physical world around them. Teachers are there to support children in their investigations, while providing experiences to expand their thinking rather than simply supplying them with answers. Children are encouraged to build on their previous knowledge and deepen their conceptual understanding of relevant scientific topics in their immediate environment through observation and hands-on investigations.
Science is embedded in classroom routines from our daily conversations about the weather to our classroom birthday ritual in which the children walk around the “sun” holding the earth once for each year of their lives. Classroom pets provide opportunities for children to make observations about the characteristics, attributes and behaviors of living things and to develop an understanding of the properties of living and non-living things as well as the concepts of real and pretend.
As children are interacting with materials in the classroom, experimenting and observing the results, they are playfully engaged in the physical sciences. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the block area, where concepts such as gravity are explored on a daily basis. Light and color are experienced at the easel, on the projector and on the light table.
One of the photos depict children on the playground after a morning of rain. They had noticed that the mulch had a different color in certain spots and were perplexed by this. A small group gathered to investigate, and began searching the playground for more evidence. The teachers pretended to be perplexed as well and encouraged the children to investigate further. Eventually a hypothesis was formed, tested and proven and the children were very proud of the discovery that they had made all by themselves.
While structured science activities, such as the bird beak lesson, are important components to our science curriculum in our class, some of the more powerful knowledge gains come from self-guided exploration and free play. Children who have many interesting, direct experiences with science concepts during their early years will also develop a deep understanding of the broader principals of science, and an increased understanding of their place in the natural world.