Teaching Science to Young Learners
Published in ChicagoNow, October 15, 2014
I’m no expert on teaching science to kindergarteners, but in over 30 years as an early childhood educator, I never met a worksheet for kids this age that I thought was worth the paper and ink used to print it. I’m an old-fashioned believer in developmentally appropriate practice. So, try to imagine you are 5 years old. Which way of learning science would make most sense to you?
Kindergarten worksheet for science
Cherry Preschool in Evanston, Illinois is a play-based program that still advocates for developmentally appropriate practice. That doesn’t mean kids just play with toys. Rather, it means they learn through play and exploration. One of the best ways to see this philosophy in action it to watch them execute the project approach. Under the guidance of their teachers, the children choose something in their lives they are curious about and share what they already know and what they want to learn.
Recently, the teachers in a classroom of 4 and 5-year olds wrote this in their weekly news bulletin about the children’s choice of a topic to study, squirrels:
It’s up! It’s up! Our Purple Room “Squirrel Mural” is now on display in the hall across from the kitchen! Come see the darling squirrels your children made scampering across a park and a brick building! While you’re viewing the scene, you’ll also notice a list of Squirrel Facts. Yes, your children learned all 15 facts during the last two weeks! Our Squirrel Feeder Chart is up, too. It records all the observations we’ve made of the squirrel feeder we hung in the tree outside of our window. There’s even photographic evidence of a squirrel eating the corn! In other squirrel excitement, we got to touch the inside of a real squirrel nest. Ask us what it felt like. And, while you’re asking questions, ask us about how big the biggest and smallest squirrels are.
The daily observations of the squirrel feeder led to an observation chart. The children could also conduct hands-on observations of a squirrel nest, which led to constructing a home for the squirrels in the classroom. So, let’s see, this study covered science, engineering, art, and literacy. But more importantly, it encompassed the imaginative and creative thinking and logical reasoning we claim we want our kids to learn. And the kids were highly motivated to explore something they had observed in their daily lives. They followed their curiosity and natural quest for knowledge to answer their expanding list of questions. Best of all, there was no test to take at the end of this unit and there was no doubt they learned a lot.
Observations of the squirrel feeder
Now ask yourself if a worksheet about squirrels would have led to further questions, greater exploration, and longer-lasting knowledge.