Young children are biologically prepared to learn about the world around them, just as they are biologically prepared to learn to walk and talk and interact with other people. Because they are ready to learn about the everyday world, young children are highly engaged when they have the opportunity to explore.
They create strong and enduring mental representations of what they have experienced in investigating the everyday world. They readily acquire vocabulary to describe and share these mental representations and the concepts that evolve from them. Children then rely on the mental representations as the basis for further learning and for higher order intellectual skills such as problem solving, hypothesis testing, and generalizing across situations.
While a child’s focus is on finding out how things in her environment work, her family and teachers may have a somewhat different goal. Research journals, education magazines, and the popular press are filled with reports about the importance of young children’s development of language and literacy skills. Children’s natural interests in science can be the foundation for developing these skills.
Whereas many adults think of science as a discrete body of knowledge, for young children science is finding out about the everyday world that surrounds them. Our third week of desert activities revolved all around desert animals. The first three days involved talking about the rattlesnake! Using a variety of materials, we created our own version of a rattlesnake egg. To begin with, we talked about the characteristics of reptiles. One of these characteristics relates to egg-laying. Using chicken eggs, we discovered what happens to them when placed in different materials.
Using vinegar, we soaked eggs over night. We did the same with water. Following this, we noticed that the vinegar-soaked eggs lost their skin. To investigate, we used preschool-sized words to talk about the feeling, smell, and sight of the different eggs. We discussed opposite words such as soft and hard, cold and warm, smooth and coarse. We then drew pictures of what we saw. Finally, we held the eggs in our hands, using our vocabulary to discuss them. Lastly, we soaked the eggs in colored water that we attempted to pick up with tweezers. Students were then able to take their science experiments home!