Foundations for Science Learning in Young Children

Major Findings in the Chapter:

  • In contrast to the commonly held and outmoded view that young children are concrete and simplistic thinkers, the research evidence now shows that their thinking is surprisingly sophisticated. Important building blocks for learning science are in place before they enter school.

  • Children entering school already have substantial knowledge of the natural world, which can be built on to develop their understanding of scientific concepts. Some areas of knowledge may provide more robust foundations to build on than others, because they appear very early and have some universal characteristics across cultures throughout the world.

  • By the end of preschool, children can reason in ways that provide helpful starting points for developing scientific reasoning. However, their reasoning abilities are constrained by their conceptual knowledge, the nature of the task, and their awareness of their own thinking.

Regardless of one’s theoretical orientation, by the time children enter elementary school, no one would argue that their minds are empty vessels awaiting enlightenment in the form of instruction. They come to school after years of cognitive growth in which they have developed a wide range of ways of understanding and reasoning about the world around them. Our goal in this chapter is to describe the knowledge and skills that children bring to school, beginning with the earliest understandings of infants. The past 20 to 30 years of research paint a picture of young children as surpris-

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