The overall goals of children's development in science are to deepen their conceptual understandings of the world around them, to increase their comprehension of how science is practiced and to develop their abilities to conduct scientific investigations. Adults can help children achieve these goals with a supportive environment.
Three-year-olds use all of their senses to make sense of the world around them. Their growing language skills help them to talk about their observations and experiences. In seeking solutions to problems, children at this age typically try different ideas until a successful one is found. Three-year-olds can classify and sort objects, but usually by only one characteristic at a time.
Uses exploration as his or her primary method of learning. Practices the "trial and error" method to find solutions to problems, typically trying different ideas until a successful one is found (e.g., stacks blocks over and over, trying different configurations to achieve stability and height).
Collects much information through observation, sound, and touch. Classifies and sorts objects by identifying one property (e.g., hard v. soft, large v. small) or function (e.g., transportation). Notices common properties and differences among objects and materials. Readily sequences by size. Begins to use simple tools (e.g., magnifying glasses to see details) to gather information.
Begins to make simple representational drawings as a form of data collection (e.g., drawing of snail begins with outline of form, then over time features of particular interest are added, such as the head or rings on the shell).
Can draw on past experience to describe, compare, and talk about observations and experiences.
Shares experiences and observations in discussions, increasing use of descriptive vocabulary (e.g., child describes snow as "wet," "cold," and "white").
Can explore science phenomena with small groups (e.g., a group looks for living things in a leaf pile).
Begins to describe objects in terms of materials they are made of and their physical properties (e.g., may ask for a blue plastic cup). Shows beginning understanding of cause-effect relationships (e.g., how adding water changes the consistency of clay).
Notices qualities of sound (e.g., pitch, volume) and light (e.g., brightness). May experiment with making sounds and recognize different sources of light. Begins to realize that light makes shadows.
Continues to play with water, noticing the way it flows and fills a container. Enjoys making "potions," mixing various liquids to create new variations.
Understands that inanimate objects don't move on their own, and that they need to be pushed, pulled, thrown, dropped or otherwise acted upon in order to move.
Identifies the basic characteristics (e.g., color, size, shape) of a variety of plants and animals. Thinks about the external features of the human body and what each does (e.g., mouth is for eating, ears are for hearing).
Is becoming aware that living things have needs. May attribute his or her own needs to other animals (e.g., may say that a frog needs a mommy, a bed or a toilet).
Uses one or two criteria (e.g., motion) to categorize "living" and "nonliving," and as a result may call a car "living" and a tree "not living."
Begins to understand that in similar environments, similar living things can be found (e.g., expects to find frogs, fish, or dragonflies at a pond because of prior experience or observations).
Makes basic comparisons of living things (e.g., which living thing is taller, fatter, etc.). Makes some comparisons between humans and other animals (e.g., people don't have trunks like elephants).
Has observational experience with parts of the life cycle. Makes generalizations, such as the smaller worm is "the baby" and the bigger one is "the daddy." May wonder where babies come from. May also associate a characteristic with age (e.g., gray hair means a person is very old).
Experiences the immediate environment and the materials in it (e.g., rocks, soil, sand). Begins building vocabulary for natural features of the environment (e.g., river, mountain).
Notices weather conditions, and associates these conditions with personal activities (e.g., may think, "It's raining, so I can't go outside and play."). Uses common weather-related vocabulary (e.g., "rainy," "snowy," "sunny"). Knows that weather conditions change. Is developing awareness of ideas and language related to time.
Knows vocabulary for major features of the sky (e.g., sun, moon, star, clouds). May notice changes in the position of the sun or the moon, or with the phases of the moon. Identifies basic concepts associated with night and day.