Preschoolers practice basic science process skills as they explore the world. These processes are the same as adult scientists use. These skills are not a step-by-step procedure but integrated skills that occur in different combinations. Let’s examine the six science process skills.
Introducing Science in Preschool
Preschoolers use their five senses to observe the world and describe what they experience. Help preschoolers notice details. Use tools like magnifiers, flashlights, and tweezers to aid observation. Encourage children to talk about their observations. Introduce new words to describe observations (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 science begins with curiosity and wonder.
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 read 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). They understand different groupings. Classifying is a foundational skill in science, math, and literacy.
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 an picture or story at the end of a science exploration and display what they have learned. Communicating learning is an important step in the science process 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 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. 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). That just leads to more questions and more observations.
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.
Try: Ramps and Cars
Materials Needed: toy cards, boards, blocks
Kids can experiment with building a ramp (raising one end of the board with blocks). 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 blocks or another nonstandard measure). 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. Read books about ramps for more information.