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.
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?"
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
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
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?
Identifying patterns and
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 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?"