The Tobin School

Learning Science in an Early Childhood Classroom

If you aren’t a science lover, thinking about science education might make you think of memorizing the periodic table for a high school chemistry exam, dissecting frogs or earthworms in biology, or studying rocks and minerals in earth science (what is basalt again?!). But while science can certainly encompass all of these things, you will see a much different kind of science curriculum and learning in an early childhood classroom.

The early childhood years are all about the child exploring the world around them through active play. It is simply not enough for a young child to hear from an adult that ice is cold, rain is wet, or lemons are sour. As much as possible, the child needs to taste, smell, hear, feel, and see materials to explore their properties and make discoveries. Gravity and force? A child learns about their world by changing the incline of a board for rolling a toy car, setting up a marble maze, pulling a friend on a sled, and trying (and occasionally failing) to build a very tall block tower. Chemistry? We call it cooking and magical mixtures.

Early childhood teachers are much less ‘keepers of science facts’ – and much more leaders in a shared expedition. It’s their job to offer exposure to materials and help the child make discoveries on their own. A skilled teacher won’t give young children the answer to a question, but instead will challenge them with a question back. Teachers will explore scientific method by asking the children to make predictions about what will happen when we add vinegar to baking soda, then have them try it out on their own to see if they were right. We’ll provide a water table and aluminum foil, encouraging the children to make their own boats–then ask them to see how many coins they can hold and still stay afloat.

So much has been written about encouraging students to focus on the sciences for future careers. When I witness the joy on our young ‘scientists” faces in our early childhood classrooms here at Tobin, I hate to think it might be extinguished later by boring rote memorization of facts. The job of science is alive and growing today in your child’s early childhood classroom.