Can pre-school children learn to do science?

The Guardian reports that science isn’t just about explosions. But can children as young as 3 understand what it’s really about. 

 There are few words more misunderstood than the term “science”. If you relied on the subject categories in some media outlets, you’d be forgiven for taking home the message that “science” is gadgets and technology, or pretty pictures of flowers and insects, or the latest health advice.

But none of this stuff is really “science”. Science is a method for finding out how things work. A question is posed, a potential answer framed, and then an experiment designed and performed to see if the answer is right. What scientists actually do is slightly more complicated.

Perhaps the need to entice people gently on-side is a good enough excuse for what typically gets trotted out as science. On TV or videos for children, science is often all about explosions, whizz-bang stuff that is heavy on shock and awe but somewhat light on the why. 

When “science” isn’t about blowing things up, it’s often descriptive: collecting beetles or leaves, measuring atmospheric pressure, making a diorama of the solar system. This treatment can be fun, and can inspire – but again, there is usually no problem to solve.

The rudiments of the scientific method are indeed part of the UK primary school curriculum, starting from year 1 and escalating year on year.  But could it be that learning about hypotheses and the scientific method is too difficult and off-putting for children, such that it just doesn’t stick?

But when an inquisitive toddler constantly asks ‘why’ are we not missing a trick? 

In the UK at least, learning and development from birth through to the age of five is governed by the of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework. “Understanding The World” is a specific area in this framework, covering the stimulation of the five senses, and encouraging exploration. This curriculum is usually expressed as arts and crafts, not quite science.

I’m under no illusion that setting up a testable hypothesis and running a meaningful experiment in that age group is even remotely easy. But is it even possible? I am about to find out: my son’s nursery has asked me to come and “do some science”. I am looking forward to making this experience my own personal experiment into how much scientific method a group of three-year-olds can handle.

Read more at Can pre-school children learn to do science?

Do you think pre-school children can grasp a hypothesis, experiment and conclusion? Please comment here or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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