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Discovering Science

Dear Debi,
Science has never been an easy subject for me. Can you suggest a few simple ideas on how I can get my kids – the toddlers and the older ones - to enjoy science?
Michael, Inglewood, CA
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
  • Science is about doing, not just memorizing facts
  • Ask open-ended questions and help kids experiment
  • Teach science during everyday routines and events
Expert Advice
Amy Aguayo
Amy Aguayo
Pre-K and Kindergarten teacher
An important way to teach science is with open-ended questions. With science, kids should be taught to think on their own -- not to memorize concepts. Science should be incorporated in every activity they do throughout the day. Providers should always ask questions like, “Why did you do that,” or “Why do you think that happened,” to get kids thinking for themselves.

An open-ended question is one that has many possible answers, rather than one right or expected answer. Children’s responses can’t be predicted – they’re unique to each child.

The best way to learn about science is to integrate it daily along with math and literacy. Take a particular concept and talk about some aspect of it every day. This way you build on the science concept. Maybe you want to look at the weather and how it changes and how people change and how the outside changes. Or take a look at insects. If you go on walks, try to look everyday at something related to insects. One week there may be a lot of insects. The next week there may be none. Or one week you may see butterflies. Asking a lot of open-ended questions is key, and the provider shouldn’t have to think she has to know all the answers.

Science for infants is as simple as looking at textures and introducing vocabulary. “This is soft, or hard or long or smooth.” You can be looking at movements. You can see a baby crawling and say, “She went through or under or over…” Infants are all about movement. Introduce vocabulary to them while they’re young.

For a toddler, it’s more simplified than it is for a preschooler. You’re getting them to observe things. In our class, we have them watching balls and rolling them. We teach them roll, up, down, and through. A lot of it is the teacher teaching vocabulary and the kids paying attention to detail. The teacher is the announcer of things as they happen.

Children are really natural scientists—they thrive on exploring and asking questions about how and why. For a preschooler, that’s when you add in the recording. Encourage children to write down or draw what they see. Make it different than an art by having them describe what they’re really looking at. You can use food as an example and weave in concepts, like, “Most fruit have seeds.” Or talk about how different kinds of foods look different. Or you can talk about how people get different nutrients for their bodies from different foods.

Just remember, there’s science in everything. If you’re looking at salt or apples or potatoes or ants or crickets, go to the library and get books on whatever subject it is. Then discuss this with your kids. What’s the same or what is different about everything? Read about the subject everyday and try to have it relate to things your kids can understand. It’s just about getting the children to think on their own. You want them to make their own connections, and come up with their own conclusions. You must free them of having to have the right answer.
Child Care provider Comments
Verdis Ferraro
Verdis Ferraro
Child care provider for 23 years
We do a lot of hands on kinds of things like cooking. We allow the kids to mix the batter, so they can see things move from liquid to solid. We even make rainbow cups. One time we made a color graph of different liquids and realized that it didn’t matter how we poured it, the heaviest ones dropped to the bottom. Then we asked them why they thought that happened. That was a chance to make them think.
Sonnia Corzo
Sonnia Corzo
Child care provider for 6 years, mother of four
We do a lot of outdoor things. We’ll go out and collect leaves. We’ll examine them, talk about their color and texture. We’ll talk about insects, and other animals. Last week we had frogs, now we have hamsters. We also give the kids different responsibilities. We mix colors with Jello to experiment and try to figure out what one color added to another makes. We also have a garden we take care of. We grew little tomatoes a few months back and they started to understand where they come from.
Clarissa August
Clarissa August
Family child care provider for 21 years
I use every opportunity to teach them. When they throw a ball we talk about why it comes down. We talk about space and how there is no gravity out there. They know that everything that goes up comes down, like the balls they throw in the air. We also go on nature walks and we pick up leaves and things they find. We talk about how long a tree lives and we look at the insects and talk about them. They ask questions about everything.

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Topic: Early Learning Areas
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