Young children often develop intense interests in scientific information. For example, they may become interested in dinosaurs and want to learn all of their names, be fascinated with stars and planets, or want to learn all there is to know about snakes. It is a good idea to make available a variety of science picture books and nature guides in your classroom activity areas to spark and build on children's interests. Encourage children to learn by making direct observations and predictions as well as by looking at books. For example, the children might plant seeds, make drawings of what they think the plants will look like under and above the ground, and then make books of drawings showing how the plants look at different stages.

When we talk about sorting, ordering, and counting, we are describing the basic building blocks of a science curriculum. Scientists categorize plants, animals, minerals, and other physical phenomena according to shared attributes. They discover the order in which things happen in time or occur in space. They discover the ways in which one set of phenomena or events relates to another set of phenomena or events. As preschool children are given opportunities to sort and manipulate objects and materials, they are learning the basic skills of the scientist.

There is one aspect of scientific thinking that we have not yet mentioned: Scientists use what they know to discover what they do not know. They develop hypotheses and then carry out experiments to see if their hypotheses are correct. In other words, scientists continue to ask if/then kinds of questions. If/then questions are difficult for young children to ask in an abstract way, but they do ask these questions in a concrete way. The child who places the plank at more of an angle to see if the marble will slide down faster is asking an if/then kind of question. A scientific environment for young children provides many different opportunities for if/then investigations.

Suggested Materials to Invite Scientific Investigation

  • A water table containing funnels, sieves, a water pump, see-through containers of different sizes and shapes, ladles, basters, clear plastic tubing, soap bubbles, food coloring, soda straws
  • A balance scale with dishes of small objects that can be placed on the pans
  • A standing magnifying glass with a basket next to it full of interesting materials to look at (shells, rocks, cones, bark, nuts, postage stamps)
  • A large magnet with a basket of items—some that stick to the magnets and some that do not
  • A water tub with a tray of objects—some that float and some that do not
  • Different kinds of clay, play dough, and plaster—some that get hard and some that stay soft
  • Toy cars and small balls; planks and tubes; blocks that can be used to raise one end of the track
  • Different colors and kinds of paint
  • Unusual materials to make like "oobleck" (cornstarch, water, and food coloring); soap-suds clay (beat fl cup soap powder and 1 tablespoon warm water with a hand mixer); and glue paint (Elmer's Glue mixed with water and food coloring)
  • Books and pictures
  • Live animals
  • Shells, leaves, rocks, sticks, and birds' nests