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Early Childhood Education and Science

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Students—even very young students—bring a lot of curiosity about the natural world, and assumptions about how it works, with them to school. How can preschool teachers tap into this enthusiasm, and build students' understanding of science?

Researchers and advocacy organizations have been exploring the connection between early childhood education and science instruction for years. A philanthropy, the PNC Foundation, is announcing a grant to support those science efforts, which is going to the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum and the Washington, D.C., public schools. (More details will be available next week on the particulars of the award. It will be announced at an event at the Smithsonian.)

Adults tend to think of science as a distinct subject to be taught and studied. But for students around preschool age, science is simply "finding out about the everyday world around them," as this article in the journal of the National Association for the Education of Young Children points out. (It's the top article on the page.)

Preschool teachers can help develop students' science knowledge through relatively simple activities. Yet many educators are reluctant to do so, partly because they look back on their own experiences in school science lessons as unpleasant ones, the article notes. Preschool teachers, it says, should try to build coherence in science lessons from day to day, using well-planned curricula and lessons, and encouraging students, through hands-on activities and other means, to use some of the same processes that scientists follow.

Ingrid Chalufour, of the Education Development Center, explores many of these topics in an interview in the organization's spring journal (page 10). For preschool teachers who've sought to introduce science topics to young children, what are the challenges you face—and how do you try to overcome them?

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Two of the most important words in science are "how" and "why". The second of these two words is clearly a word that young children love to ask. Young children are natural scientists and it's wonderful to see resources shone on this opportunity.


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