The Objectives of Teaching Science to Preschoolers
Because preschoolers are naturally curious, they are usually eager to learn science concepts and do scientific experiments. Preschoolers who participate in science activities can develop simple science skills, such as observation and classification. Providing preschoolers with a science curriculum as well as a science learning center will further their curiosity and ability to perform scientific tasks later in life.
One of the most important skills a preschooler can learn through science is observation. Because of preschoolers innate curiosity, the concept of observation is easy to teach. By providing many different materials to touch, observe and manipulate, the children will learn the basics of scientific observation. For example, use a section of your preschool classroom for a dedicated science center. Include interesting leaves, pine cones and other natural materials as well as magnifying lenses, tweezers and a simple child-appropriate microscope in your science corner. Allow the children to explore these materials on their own, and ask them to tell you what they notice about the objects. Explain that looking closely at an object and noticing things about it is called observation.
Another important scientific concept that preschoolers are capable of learning is classification. Classifying items means grouping them based on similarities. This is a relatively simple concept for preschoolers to understand. Begin teaching classification skills by using only two categories: What the item is and what it is not. For example, gather several pictures of animals as well as several pictures of household items, trees or toys. As a large group activity, tell the children that they will classify the pictures according to one set of rules: animal or not an animal. Hold up one picture at a time and ask the children into which classification it fits.
What good would it be if the greatest scientists in the world were unable to share their work with everyone? A big scientific concept that too often gets overlooked is communication. When scientists share their work with the world, everyone benefits. This is important in your preschool classroom, too. When children are observing objects in the science center, provide them with paper and crayons to draw what they see under the microscope. Or write a word or two about what happens when they use the magnifying lens to see a leaf. Explain that they all may notice, or observe, different things when working in the science center, and by communicating about their observations with their classmates, everyone has a chance to learn something new.
Preschoolers use their experimentation skills every day in the classroom. Explain that when they perform scientific experiments, they will be answering the question, "What if..." Giving children a chance to observe, classify and communicate before diving into the experimentation phase will give them a strong head start to learning science. A good experiment for preschoolers to begin with is a simple sink or float test. Lay out a number of objects near a sensory table or baby pool filled with water. Use everyday objects, such as a Lego, a spoon, a rubber duck and a penny. Allow the children to observe these objects, discuss whether they think each will sink or float, then try out their theories in the water. After the experiment, children can classify each object as a "sink" or "float" item.