Science and Literacy

|Parents And Guardians - Are You Aware Articles
Niki Smidt

September 6, 2005

Young children have a sense of wonder and curiosity about the world. While watching snails in an aquarium, blowing bubbles, using a flashlight to make shadows, or experimenting with objects to see what sinks or floats, children are busy finding out how the world works.

Because they are ready to learn about the everyday world, young children become highly engaged when allowed to explore their surroundings. They create strong and enduring memories of what they have experienced through their investigations. They readily acquire a rich vocabulary that they use to describe and share these memories. In this way, children's natural interest in science can be the foundation for developing language and literacy skills. In short, science gives children something to talk, read, and write about.

Because science is so intriguing, young children are eager to learn new words they can use to describe what they see, touch, smell, and hear. Their investigations support a variety of early literacy experiences. Young children can be encouraged to talk about their explorations and observations or to report on their findings through drawings, words, photographs, and even graphs and charts.

While many adults think of science as a discrete body of knowledge, for young children, science is finding out about the world that surrounds them. This is exactly what they are interested in doing, all day, every day.

Science for young children builds on several ideas:

  • Young children are active, self-motivated learners who learn best from personal experience.
  • Young children construct knowledge through participation with others in activities that allow them to experiment, solve problems, and play and learn with others.
  • Young children should be allowed to make choices about what they explore and experience.
  • Children's social skills develop best when they can learn and practice them through activities that mean something to them.

For example, science, language, and literacy skills can grow during and after a walk outside in the fall. The children watch leaves falling from trees and blowing in the wind. They might read a book about leaves, paint tree and leaf pictures, collect leaves of different sizes, shapes, and colors, and use real rakes to gather leaves in a pile. Through this creative and exploratory process, they'll get to use many forms of knowledge to build theories about the world. Their activities will let them learn new words and ways of thinking about and talking about their experiences.

Young children, like all scientists, need to practice the skills of predicting, observing, classifying, hypothesizing, experimenting, and communicating. They also need time to reflect on their findings, how they reached them, and how the findings compare to their previous ideas and the ideas of others. In this way, children are encouraged to continue the discovery process. By building on young children's curiosity about the world around them, families, teachers and other adults can make science come alive, thereby reinforcing science learning. Science provides a rich knowledge base that will become an essential foundation for later reading comprehension. Exploring the natural world presents authentic opportunities for children to listen and talk.

Excerpted from "Science in the Preschool Classroom" by Kathleen Conezio and Lucia French - an article in the NAEYC journal, Young Children. Reprinted with permission from the National Association for the Education of Young Children .

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