original identity, character, or function. Later in school, they build on similar understanding to use counters to solve simple early arithmetic problems.

Young children’s use of models has been validated in a series of laboratory-based studies. In studies by Deloache and colleagues, children as young as three years old are presented with both an actual room and a scale model of that room. They are shown where an object resides in the scale model room and then asked to find the object in the actual room. To be successful in this task children must understand that the model is an object in its own right and that it represents something about the larger room. This suggests that children have rudimentary skills for modeling—a fundamental aspect of contemporary scientific practice—even before kindergarten.

In addition, children are able to understand their own and others’ ideas, beliefs, and knowledge, and they have the ability to assess sources of knowledge. The ability to consider ideas and beliefs as separate from the material world is essential for children to engage in debates about the interpretation of evidence. Children also understand that knowledge is distributed unevenly in the world. Before they arrive at school they already have a sense of who has expertise in areas they care about and who does not. This too is critical to scientific practice, as much of science is done in groups, and both scientists and science learners have varying levels of expertise.

Finally, children are eager participants in the quest for knowledge. One of the great pleasures of working with young children is their enthusiasm and lack of inhibition in generating and considering new ideas. They discuss ideas and debate positions with a sophistication that is often surprising.

Even very young children can engage in all four strands of scientific proficiency. They typically have significant gaps in their understanding (as do many adults), and their unschooled reasoning abilities may lead them to draw erroneous conclusions. But young children are not the bundles of misconceptions they are sometimes portrayed as being. They are active explorers who have successfully learned about regularities in particular domains of experience in ways that help them interpret, anticipate, and explain their worlds.

Young children begin school with…

  • rich knowledge of the natural world.

  • the ability to reason.

  • an understanding of the principles of cause and effect.

  • foundations for modeling.

  • the ability to consider ideas and beliefs.

  • an eagerness to participate in learning.

Over time and with different experiences, children’s common sets of understanding may diverge to some extent, and this diversity can be seen both within a

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