How the Science Center Enhances Children's Development
“The cognitive skills in mathematics and science displayed by young children are not only the roots of later literacy in those areas, they are the building blocks in the development of the capacity to comprehend complex relationships and reason about those relationships” (National Research Council, 2005, p. 4). Through science, children also learn skills that transfer to other curriculum areas. For example, they improve their ability to observe, problem solve, collect and organize data, and to create hypotheses and test them. They add to their vocabulary and learn to communicate information. They develop concepts about the world around them. As they engage in science, children often use math and literacy skills in authentic ways. For example, children in one classroom used math skills as they counted the number of butterflies that hatched each day and created a graph of what the pupa liked to eat. They used literacy skills as they learned new vocabulary, wrote stories about the butterflies, read the fiction and nonfiction books about insects, and created a class metamorphosis book.
Children are naturally curious. Well-designed science centers and activities build upon this curiosity promoting children’s wonder, joy in experimentation, and love of exploration.
But what specific content and skills should children learn in the early childhood years? The process skills children need to learn are fairly clear (National Research Council, 2005). Children need to learn to observe, compare, classify, measure, quantify, represent data, interpret representations, predict, and communicate. In a preschool curriculum called ScienceStart, Conezio and French (2003) have broken these process skills into a four-step cycle.
- Ask and reflect—What is the questions What do we already know about it?
- Plan and predict—How will you address the questions What is the plan? What do you predict will happen?
- Act and observe—Put the plan into action. Observe the results.
- Report and reflect—Share information with others (tell someone, dictate, draw, make a chart, create a song, put on a skit). (p. 11)
However, appropriate science content is limitless and it is not clear what content is critical or important in the early years (National Research Council, 2005). Many believe that what children specifically study is not as important as linking what is studied to the “big picture” or to “big ideas” (Klein, Hammrich, Bloom, & Ragins, 2000). “A big idea can be described in two ways: as involving an enduring principle that transcends its origins, subject matter or place in time; and as a linchpin idea—one crucial to a student’s ability to understand a subject” (Wiggins & McTighe, 1998, p. 113). Big ideas can be understood by both novices and experts but at different levels. As one studies “big ideas” new questions often arise.
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