Science is Wonder
The best way to teach science to preschoolers is to inspire them to wonder. Let them be scientists. In my book, All In One Day, the teacher, Walter hands each child a box that is taped shut. There is something inside and each box has a small hole. The children need little encouragement to try to figure out what is inside. They immediately find some clues. They can hear that it sounds like metal. They can see the size of the box and infer that the object is smaller than the box. I imagine that some children would stick their fingers in the hole in the box and try to feel the object. Some would look inside although it turns out to be too dark to see anything.
At this point the children are using listening skills, as well as differentiating materials (metal, plastic, etc.). They are problem solving. What hey are, in essence, are researchers. They have a question to be answered and they will come up with several hypotheses. They will test those hypotheses and they and their “colleagues” will narrow down the possibilities.
Sooner or later, one of the researchers is going to think of tools that will help the investigation. I imagine someone will get a pair of scissors and try to cut the box. In the book, one of the researchers decides that a flashlight would help. As it turns out Walter had flashlights ready anticipating that someone would come up with the idea.
Too often in Early Childhood programs, science comes out of a box. Each year children watch caterpillars in a butterfly tent make chrysalises and come out as butterflies. The activity is good, and is quite dramatic. Certainly teachers can still have children ask questions and make predictions. Most children have read books about butterflies and know the basic story line, but a good teacher will help them focus on the details that can only be discovered by observation.
What’s missing from the butterfly activity is the power of the ordinary. Science is mostly about the things we see every day, but don’t notice. Most of us probably couldn’t explain why the sky is blue or what part of the branch leaves grow on and what parts they don’t. We need to help children ask those questions about the every day things and then help them figure out how to answer those question. Science is about wonder.