Friday, January 22, 2010

Science for Preschoolers?

I am shocked, I tell you, shocked.

The change in Mr. Hoff’s room, and in a handful of other classrooms like it around the country, stems from growing interest among academic experts and educators in teaching science to preschoolers.

A handful of other classrooms? Just a handful in 2010? When my kids were in preschool twenty years ago, there was tons of hands-on science. Oh wait, they went to preschool in Japan.

But still, Montessori preschools, even in America, have provided hands-on science for decades.
Every preschool has a sand and water table. The Methodist preschool, where I sub occasionally, provides a rich selection of science opportunities for the children. I guess lots of preschools have stuff, but do not use what they have.

“Most teachers will have a science area in their classroom, ... and if you look on plans, you would see something listed as science but, in reality, there would be some shells, some magnets, and maybe a pumpkin, or a book about animals in winter,” said Nancy Clark-Chiarelli, a principal research scientist at the Education Development Center, a research group based in Newton, Mass. “But those items are not conceptually related, and they don’t promote children’s independent exploration of them.”
If preschool teachers had water tables in their classrooms, Ms. Clark-Chiarelli and her EDC research partners found in their work, they were often turned into bathing areas for plastic dolls rather than used as science-teaching tools.

Yeah, come to think of it, I have seen the children bathing dolls.

Ironically, a call for more science in preschool has its critics, those who believe science is just one more academic subject crowding out what little playtime is left.

New efforts to teach more science in preschool come at a time when early-childhood educators worry that a growing emphasis on academics during those years is crowding out the playtime that children need for healthy development.

Is it possible those early-childhood “experts” really do not understand that science IS play, or can be, if handled properly? Science also provides a great context for building language skills and acquiring number sense in a realistic context. Science can be the ultimate content integrator.

American need to abandon the assumption that academics must be work requiring pencil and paper. Think of all that children learn about language and number and the way the world works by observing and testing hypotheses from the day they are born.

Maybe it is just me, but it seems that providing science experiences for young children would be easy. But if it is not, there is help. A new book is out, entitled Preschool Pathways to Science (PrePS): Facilitating Scientific Ways of Thinking, Talking, Doing, and Understanding, that should help.

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