Young children begin to develop a sense of curiosity and start asking questions about the world around them at an early age. In fact, infants and toddlers are naturally curious and are constantly exploring their environment through their senses. As children grow and develop, they become more and more curious about the world around them and will often ask questions about how things work or why things happen. The first steps in scientific enquiry can be taken by fostering this natural curiosity and “systematic” investigation, that is, repeated and consistent exploration of a child’s environment.
There are many ways you can support and encourage your child’s journey in exploration. In general, it is important to provide your child with age-appropriate materials and activities, answer their questions no matter how basic or strange they may seem at first, and encourage them to make observations and ask more questions.
For children to begin developing their pre-scientific abilities, they need to engage with open-ended resources, such blocks, loose parts, playdough, and art materials. Using these resources repeatedly over time, children gradually learn how to make predictions, and find ways to test these predictions. Within this process of exploration and discovery, children learn how to ask questions in relation to their observations and follow different investigation paths. At home, you can support children’s early science skills by providing them with opportunities that will allow them to solve problems by using hands-on materials. For example, providing sensory resources will allow your children to use their senses to observe their key characteristics like colours, smells, and textures.
The adult’s involvement in this process is essential in supporting inquiry-based questioning. As an adult supporting your child’s exploration, you can encourage them to find similarities and differences in the objects they are exploring for example colours, weight and capacity. Through discussion and questioning, young children learn how to internalise their thinking and connect ideas. These are key skills that will help them to become creative thinkers.
Some of the activities that can support children’s early scientific skills and their understanding of the world around them include the following:
Nature exploration: When you take your child for a walk to the park, ask your child to collect any objects they can find. You can then encourage them to talk about the objects’ properties using their senses. This will support your child’s observational skills. You can also ask your child to organise leaves or pine cones according to size, shape or colour. This will support their classification skills like grouping, organising and sorting.
Cooking is an excellent activity that teaches children how to measure and mix ingredients. You can use the scales to measure different ingredients or measuring cups to measure capacity. You can encourage your child to think about the similarities between using scales in the kitchen and using something like a seesaw in the park. This will encourage the children to draw on connections between different objects that operate in similar ways.
Water play is another key way to teach your child about prediction and the concepts of floating and sinking. You can go on a treasure hunt at home and then try to test whether some of the resources you found will sink or float. You can show children how a coin sinks while a cork floats. Experimenting with potion-making will allow your child to practice measuring and mixing different ingredients and within this, you can encourage them to name their potion or to give it a specific smell or colour.
Exploring ice is also a good activity for investigation. You can support your child’s exploration by asking open-ended questions like ‘I wonder how the ice cube feels to the touch?’, or, ‘What will happen if I try to stack ice cubes? What do you think will happen if I place them in hot water?’ As an extension activity, you can ask your child to put different amounts of ice into two different bowls and observe what will happen once the ice melts. Lastly, you can encourage your child to draw a picture related to their experiment.
Science centre at home: Set up a small science centre in your home, somewhere you can leave it in place for a few days, or over the weekend. Try to include a variety of materials that your child can use to explore and experiment, such as seeds, rocks, shells, and water, supporting some of the activities as above. Also try to provide simple tools, such as magnifying glasses, balances, and measuring cups, to help them observe and learn about the properties of objects.
In conclusion, early science skills start with nurturing your child’s curiosity, supporting their interest and allowing them time for self-led investigation. As a more knowledgeable adult, you can help your child to develop their understanding of the world around them through discussions. By encouraging your child to have a go at solving problems, you can introduce them to the basic elements of scientific reasoning, for example making and testing predictions, and dealing with evidence to support them or challenge them.
Alphablocks Nursery School empowers children to become confident learners using a hybrid educational approach, which includes project-based learning and the core elements of Montessori, Reggio Emilia, Highscope, and Forest School pedagogy. However, children are ‘active learners’ and their learning never stops; this is why we encourage our parents to be aware of the focused learning that is taking place in the nursery school, and carry it through in the home environment.