Preschoolers practice basic science process skills as they explore the world. There’s no reason to hold back on introducing them to these important scientific concepts. The processes are the same as adult scientists use; they’re just modified for age-appropriate understanding. These skills are not a step-by-step procedure, per se. Instead, they are integrated skills that occur in different combinations and which often come up naturally during the course of regular preschool activities.
Let’s examine the six science process skills. In each step, you’ll learn not only how these skills fit in with the typical preschool classroom experience but also why they’re so important to development of young minds.
Introducing Science in Preschool
Preschoolers use their five senses to observe the world and describe what they experience. Help preschoolers notice details throughout the course of the day. Use tools like magnifiers, flashlights and tweezers to aid in their observation attempts. Encourage children to talk about what they observe. Introduce new words to describe the things they see (texture words, color words and so on). Preschoolers can notice details and begin to ask questions about what they see. All preschoolers are curious, and since science begins with curiosity and wonder, it’s a perfect fit for this age group.
Preschoolers can connect their observations and experiences to previous knowledge. What is this like? Have they felt a similar texture? What do they know or what have they heard about this?
As children classify and group items, they begin to develop broader concepts. They can begin to see that objects belong to different categories or can be classified in different ways (size, shape, color, etc.). They understand different groupings. Classifying is a foundational science skill, but it’s also used in math and literacy, so it’s important to encourage it from an early age.
Preschoolers can share observations and thoughts with others. They can talk about what they think. They can listen to others and contribute insights by connecting their ideas to the ideas of others. List ideas on a chart for all kids to see. Review observations over time and adjust as thinking changes.
Use notebooks to draw or write observations. Notebooks also allow children to record ideas and review them over time. They can label parts of animals or plants. They can draw pictures of what they see and add photographs from online resources to compare. They may want to create a picture or story at the end of a science exploration and display what they have learned. Communicating learning is an important step in science processes and integrates literacy as well.
Preschoolers can use rulers, tape measures, balance scales and other measurement tools in their observations. They can also use nonstandard measures. (“This apple weighs 10 grapes.”) Measure by counting; count leaves on a plant or legs on an insect. Measure something over time; note how many days it takes a bean to sprout or how many days between rain storms. Using numbers to represent some observations builds a child’s understanding of data and integrates math with science.
Preschoolers can tell you what they think will happen. Predictions can happen at the beginning of a science activity or exploration. Or preschoolers can predict after they have made a few observations. Part of predicting is thinking about alternatives. Ask “What if…” questions to encourage thinking and predicting in different scenarios. Help kids know that “wrong” predictions are okay. That’s part of the scientific process. Predictions may turn out to be true or false (or a combination), but whether they are right or wrong, they will still learn something new and exciting. The outcomes can also lead to more questions, more observations and more predictions. This process helps students to grasp the concept of a hypothesis long before they learn the word.
Preschoolers can talk about why they think things happened. Using inference skills often leads to more questions and more experimenting. Inferring can use observations, past experiences and knowledge, information from books and other sources, and additional experiments. Inferring is the beginning of making conclusions based on data. Ask students why they think certain outcomes or results occurred. Encourage them to not just guess what the cause was but use what they know to come up with a realistic inference.
Try: Ramps and Cars
Materials Needed: toy cards, boards, blocks
Looking for a great way to incorporate some of these preschool skills in your preschool classroom? Young kids can experiment with building a ramp (raising one end of the board with blocks) to see physical science in action. They can talk about their observations about the ramp and suggest ways to change the ramp (make the incline steeper, add textures to the board to make the ramp less smooth and so forth).
Roll cars down the ramp. Observe what happens and what to do to make the cars roll as desired down the ramp. Predict which car will roll farthest from the ramp. Talk about why that car rolled farthest. Measure the distance (with a standard measuring tape or with blocks or another nonstandard measure) and record how far each car goes. Change the steepness of the board and roll cars again. Does the same car roll the same distance with a change in steepness? Kids can draw pictures or write words about their observations. Encourage the kids to write a story about the experience or read books about ramps for more information.
By Brandi Jordan
This piece was originally published in 2016.