Photo provided by D-Squared.
Science is often thought of in academic terms, with images of lab coats, safety goggles, and beakers coming to mind. In the world of a preschooler, science is life itself! The Scientific Method is simply the art of inquiry, an art these newcomers to this great planet often summarize in the word, “why”. “Why?”, is a succinct question any parent or teacher of preschoolers hears multiple times a day, and can understandably tire of. What we must remind ourselves of is the fact that this one-word question is also an expression of a desire to learn. When we feel bombarded by the redundant machine-gun fire of why’s, we must remember that our children are saying, “We’ve only been around here a few years now, and everything is new and fascinating! Please teach me!”
Children explore their world through the use of the Scientific Method, or Scientific Inquiry. It includes:
1-Questioning (Hypothesizing, Predicting)
2-Investigating (Experience/Experiment, Explore, Create)
3a-Using senses and simple tools to collect data (Observing, Classifying)
3b- Using data (including past experience) to develop explanation or conclusion
4-Communicating findings (Language Development)
Because data collection is often done by using the senses, sensory development through sensory play, is imperative in honing the child’s number one scientific tool: the five senses. This can be done through a variety of activities as we encourage the children to use, attend to, and discuss the five senses. It can also be done through the use of a sensory table (also known as a sand and water table). These tables are used to hold a variety of media for exploration (colored rice, ice and salt, water, sawdust, etc.). As the children manipulate these different media they learn scientific concepts from the information acquired through the use of their senses, particularly by being able to manipulate the objects themselves.
At the preschool level, science categories can be broken down to include Physical Science (physical features and properties, sound, light, water, states of matter, movement, etc.), Life Science (living vs. nonliving, needs of living things, life cycles, growth, body parts of living things), and Earth & Space Science (environmental components, natural features, weather and seasons, components of the sky).
While science is easily segregated for the purpose of discussion, it is integrated throughout the preschooler’s life and educational experiences. Any time children wonder what the flour in your pantry feels like, what would happen if they stacked every block they owned on top of each other, or whether or not they can fit their heads through the balusters in the stairs, they are engaging in the scientific process of inquiry.