How Young Kids Learn Science

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Most parents probably don’t remember their very first official science lesson, but it was probably sometime in second or third grade. Surely, there was some sort of textbook reading and perhaps a short demonstration by a teacher on surface tension or gravity. We have come to think of science as a book-learned set of ideas for children much older than nursery and preschool age. However, children start to do their own science as early as a few weeks old, and are usually engaged in one or more experiments of their own several times a day! Yes, toddlers and preschoolers are tiny budding scientists and they’re using the scientific method without even knowing what that is.

Scientific method is defined as; “a method of procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.” Many of us are familiar with this idea and have been taught to form a hypothesis, test it, measure and observe and prove or disprove the hypothesis. Kids are doing this a dozen times a day with everything in their environment. From the baby who knows parents will look at her if she coughs to the four year old’s discovery of gravity when their block tower topples; all of them are doing this process of guessing what will happen next and testing their theories.

When we see children doing things repetitively and often to their own frustration and our own, we wonder “why haven’t they learned that that will happen every time?” It’s because if one time out of ten it works, they will continue that “experiment.” The kid who keeps tossing things off the high chair tray isn’t just being messy, they are learning that even though mom said she wouldn’t pick it up anymore,… maybe, maybe this time she will!

So, next time a preschooler or toddler is doing something that may be annoying or messy like dropping items over the staircase railing or jumping off the couch and trying to fly, consider it a sign of an intelligent and curious little scientist. Try to find ways to channel that curiosity into an early interest in physical science. Frustrated parents might consider cause and effect type activities like domino runs or creating their own mini Rube Goldberg-like masterpiece. Simple home science like shaking cream until it becomes butter or even baking a cake can be a great hands-on lesson in “what happens if?” The possibilities are seemingly endless for at-home science enrichment. Many books have been written on the subject of preschoolers and toddlers and science activities. Often, experiments can be done with the most common of household objects. A bit of Googling (or Bing / Safari) will produce many lists of excellent ideas. Parents may also want to get involved at their child’s preschool or nursery school and possibly host a weekly science project activity. Baking soda and vinegar plus a little food coloring will certainly wow the young audience!

Finally, parents whose children love to do their little experiments can take a bit of pride in knowing they are fostering a lifelong love of discovery, learning and “scientific process” when they allow their kids to nourish their inner scientist.

Our proprietary curriculum, Prime Connections, recognizes and supports each child’s ability to test and challenge the world around them and to learn from their experiences through guided interactions from a highly trained staff of teachers. Please visit your local Prime Time Early Learning Center serving Paramus, Oradell and Ridgewood New Jersey, and Hoboken and Edgewater, New Jersey, to ask about Prime Time’s highly effective learning curriculum that nurtures each child’s love of learning in language, reading, arts and science.