Promoting scientific thinking in young children

Promoting scientific thinking in young children

Some people think of science as a collection of facts about the world around us. But science is much more exciting! Studying science, rather than the act of memorising facts, becomes a way of thinking and trying to understand the world.

Young children are naturally curious and passionate about learning. In their pursuit of knowledge, they’re pulling, shaking, tasting, and experimenting with whatever they can put their little hands on. Such attitudes and actions indicate that young children engage in scientific thinking and actions long before they enter a classroom.

The active components of science include such activities as predicting, observing, classifying, hypothesizing, experimenting, and communicating. Adults should support children in practicing and applying these skills in a variety of activities throughout the day. This can be done by showing genuine interest in children’s observations and predictions, and by providing a variety of materials and settings that invite experimentation during playtime.

There are a few attitudes that are key to scientific inquiry and discovery. These include curiosity, the drive to experiment, the desire to challenge established theories and to share new ideas. Teachers should value these attitudes, be aware of how they are manifested in young children, and find ways to acknowledge and nurture their emergence.

Useful Questions to Foster Scientific Thinking*

Type of Question Purpose Examples
Attention-focusing Calls attention to details What is it doing?
How does it feel?
Measuring and counting Generates more precise information How many?
How much?
How heavy?
Comparison Fosters analysis and classification How are they alike?
How different?
Which one is bigger?
Action Encourages exploration of properties and events; also encourages predictions What if…?
Problem-posing Supports planning & trying solutions to problems How could we…?
Reasoning Encourages reflection on experiences & construction of new ideas Why do you think is that?

*Adapted from Martens, M.L. (1999). Productive questions: tools for supporting constructivist learning. Science and Children.