Science Inquiry | The Cat in the Hat | PBS PARENTS
Explorer's Guide
Science Inquiry
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Science is about how people find out new knowledge as much as it is about what people find out. When scientists investigate new questions or ideas, they engage in the lively process of science inquiry. They plan and carry out investigations to test their predictions and, depending on what they find out, they may keep, revise, or toss out their old ideas. Very often, their discoveries lead to new questions and further investigation. This means that supporting your child's ability to think and act like a scientist is much more than telling her information or giving her science facts. It's also more than demonstrating or showing her interesting things.

Supporting your child's science learning means engaging her fully, actively, and directly in science inquiry.

You can take advantage of daily opportunities to engage your child in the process of science inquiry. You can invite her to learn, use, and practice the following inquiry skills in the context of her explorations. Remember that inquiry is an active process and that children probably won't use all the skills in one exploration.

Raising questions
Young children's science explorations often begin with questions. They have questions about the world and how it works, but often don't have the language ability to articulate them. You can help by observing your child as she encounters new objects, materials, or events and asking questions that invite inquiry like "Are you wondering about what that insect is doing?" You can also model curiosity by asking questions like "I wonder how this flower is different from that one?"
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Making predictions
Just as children generate questions about the world, they also generate predictions about what will happen based on their previous experiences. Starting with predictions is a great way to get your child motivated or interested in an investigation. You can encourage him to make predictions by asking questions like "What kinds of creatures do you think we will find in the garden?" or "What do you think would happen if we brought your snowball inside?" Remember that your child must have some previous experiences on which to base predictions. Otherwise, he can only guess.

Planning and carrying out investigations
Although children raise questions and make predictions all the time, they really benefit from adult support in planning and carrying out investigations. You can help your child do this, and keep her fully engaged in inquiry, by asking questions like "How do you think we could find out?" and "What do you think would happen if . . . ?" You can also help by keeping the plans for investigation clear and concrete, so she can actively participate in each phase. For example, she could make a plan to find out what conditions seeds need to sprout by planting bean seeds in small pots, placing the pots in different locations inside and outside, and checking on them daily to observe any growth.

Making observations by using all the senses
Children often use their whole bodies to explore the materials and objects in their world. You can encourage your child to use all his senses to find things out by suggesting that he listen, smell, and touch as you go about your daily routines. For example, draw his attention to interesting sounds and smells outdoors, and encourage him to try to identify the sources. Whenever possible and appropriate, encourage your child to hold, manipulate, and feel objects and materials, and invite him to describe characteristics of items based on touch. You also can help him learn to use tools like magnifying glasses to extend his observations.

Collecting and recording data
It's important to help children remember what they found out so they can talk and think about it later. You can model collecting and recording data for your child by making notes or jotting down interesting things you and your child notice. You can also engage her in more organized data collection by keeping a weather chart over time, for example. Provide paper and crayons or colored pencils and encourage her to make drawings of her observations of plants and animals. She also might label her drawings or add a few words. If she hasn't started writing yet, do it with her.

Comparing and contrasting
Once your child has had time to investigate his question firsthand, the next step is to help him think about his experiences and the information he has collected. Begin by helping him compare and contrast the objects and events he observes by asking, for example, "How are those two birds the same and/or different?" and "How is the weather different today from what it was like yesterday?" Encourage him to sort, categorize, or sequence items or objects based on a variety of characteristics. For example, you could invite him to organize by size a collection of rocks from your backyard or park: What size is the most common? Where did the biggest ones come from? the smallest?

Identifying patterns and relationships
Identifying patterns and relationships is a first step in helping children make generalizations about the world and how it works. It is one way they develop their own ideas and theories. You can help your child do this by drawing her attention to relationships between things or events that occur over time, and encouraging her to think about cause and effect. For example, you can ask "What are some things about the weather in summer that are different from the weather in winter?" Invite her to notice cause and effect in the natural environment by asking questions like "I wonder why there are so many birds in this area compared to our yard?"

Developing ideas
Developing ideas is a critical ability and in order to do this regularly, children need to feel confident that what is valued is not whether or not they are "correct". One of the most important concepts to promote is that science ideas are based on evidence from observations and explorations. You can help your child understand this idea by encouraging him to make observations and then asking "What do you think about that?" You can also express an authentic interest in his ideas by asking "Why do you think so?" or "Why don't you think so?"

Communicating and collaborating
Listening to the ideas of others, defending her own ideas, and working together are important science inquiry skills that your child can learn as she works with other children and adults. You can help her express her ideas by encouraging her to talk about, show, demonstrate, or draw what she means. Take it further by joining in her investigations and sharing your own observations and ideas, and by modeling a willingness to listen to those of others. Ask her a question like "What do you think about that?"

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