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Preschoolers Can Engage in Science Deeply, NSTA States

Grown-ups—including teachers—tend to underestimate preschoolers' capacity to learn scientific principles as well as the length of time they'll spend exploring such ideas, the National Science Teachers Association says.

The declarations come as part of the Arlington-Va.-based advocacy group's new recommendations for early-childhood educators and the families of children ages 3 and 4, said Kate Falk, the senior manager of public relations.

This is the first time the organization has articulated an opinion on early-childhood education, she added.

"NSTA leadership recognized a growing body of research showing that the capability of young children to develop skills and understanding in science," said Linda Froschauer, who sat on the panel that wrote them. "There is also a tremendous interest in early-childhood education nationwide, so it is very good timing to have this statement released now." 

Effective science investigations can deeply engage young children for extended periods of time, beyond a single activity or session, the organization states. It recommends that teachers and other education providers should, among other actions:

• Recognize the value and importance of nurturing young children's curiosity and provide experiences in the early years that focus on the content and practices of science with an understanding of how these experiences connect to the science content defined in the Next Generation Science Standards;

• Understand that science experiences are already a part of what young children encounter every day through play and interactions with others, but that teachers and other education providers need to provide a learning environment that encourages children to ask questions, plan investigations, and record and discuss findings;

• Tap into, guide, and focus children's natural interests and abilities through carefully planned, open-ended, inquiry-based explorations;

• Provide numerous opportunities every day for young children to engage in science inquiry and learning by intentionally designing a rich, positive, and safe environment for exploration and discovery;

• Emphasize the learning of science and engineering practices, including asking questions and defining problems; developing and using models; planning and carrying out investigations; analyzing and interpreting data; using mathematics and computational thinking; constructing explanations and designing solutions; engaging in argument from evidence; and obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information;

• Recognize that science provides a purposeful context for developing literacy skills and concepts, including speaking, listening, and vocabulary development; and

• Recognize that science provides a purposeful context for use of math skills and concepts.

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