Tag Archives: preschool science

Science in ECE: It’s Not All Cocoons and Butterflies


Recently I had the opportunity to observe a teacher during outside time. This teacher was actively engaged with the children as she supervised her class. She took the time to stop and interact with them, constantly asking open-ended questions. As she walked around the playground she made comments to a small group of children using funnels and buckets in the sand box. At her next stop she helped children collect rocks and then sort them. She helped as children gathered and tossed leaves up in the air to watch them swirl around in the wind. The children giggled as she joined them in their shadow dancing/jumping game.

As I debriefed with the teacher after the observation, one of the areas in which she requested support was science. I asked about past activities. Which activities she felt went well, which activities didn’t go well and why. With excitement in her tone, she dove right into telling me about her butterfly project last spring and how the children loved observing the daily progress of the transformation to the release of them on the playground. Then she discussed a volcano explosion demonstration that flopped. I believe reflection is an important part of the planning/teaching process in ECE (and even life in general). Understanding which element was successful or unsuccessful, why it went wrong, or how it could have been done differently is a great strategy for an educator to continuously grow in this field. After reflecting for a few moments, she said the volcano flopped because the children weren’t interested in it. As we began to problem-solve WHY the children weren’t as interested in the volcano as they were in the butterflies, she stated, “Because it’s not a real life experience for them. It’s not something they see in their everyday world.” I immediately thought, BINGO! If it’s not meaningful to children, they’re not going to be engaged. One of my favorite things in ECE is adapting and even disguising learning concepts through topics of interest for children and of course play interactions.

As I read her my notes from the playground observation, she realized science was everywhere! Through her engagement and open-ended questions she was already fostering those early science skills. As we continued to reflect on that morning, she was able to make connection between those activities and the Early Learning and Development Standards (ELDS). Here’s what we discovered:

Cognition and General Knowledge: Sub-domain: Science

  • Exploring sand using funnels and buckets= ELDS strand: Science inquiry and application. Topic: Cause and effect
  • Collecting and sorting rocks = ELDS strand: Science inquiry and application. Topic: Inquiry
  • Investigating leaves being tossed in the air= ELDS strand: Earth and space science. Topic: Explorations of the natural world
  • Jumping shadows= ELDS strand: Physical science. Topic: Explorations of energy

Science in early childhood education is fostering a world FULL of wonder. While creating this world of wonder, your classroom doesn’t have to look like a science fair. So when you’re planning for your children, reflect on what is happening around them. What do you see them interested in and what are they asking questions about? What are they experiencing in their everyday world and how can you expand on it?

Science experiences in early childhood

Several years ago I attended training about science and how to incorporate it everywhere in a program which inspired a previous blog of mine. Just recently I was in a program and made an observation that had me thinking back to that blog.

The children were all crowded around a small garden where a butterfly had landed on a flower. The children were very quiet, just watching. I asked a teacher in the room to tell me about what was happening. She said, “That’s our butterfly. He has been visiting for a couple days and he has been on that flower most of the day.” I asked what the children have been doing with it. She replied “They just watch it…they keep each other from touching so they mostly just watch.” I walked over by the children who were watching the butterfly. I heard thing like, “Guys you have to be quiet because the butterfly is sleeping,” with a response, “No, butterflies don’t sleep, besides his wings are moving.” One child wondered out loud if the butterfly was a boy or girl. Another child wanted to move it to another flower but the other children insisted that he keep his hands off it in case it would get hurt. Most children went about playing on the playground, but they returned every so often to check on the butterfly. I thought to myself “What a wonderful opportunity for children to experience science!” These children are so interested in this butterfly, with lots of questions.

How can you enhance the science experiences in your ECE classroom?

How can you enhance the science experiences in your ECE classroom?

First, let me say that I’m glad the children were given the time to just observe—and sometimes that’s enough. Another way to add to this type of experience and extend it a bit would be to provide some clipboards with paper and pencils. The children could write observations, maybe do a time log (since the butterfly had been visiting all day) or draw pictures of what they were seeing. I also wonder about the extensions that could be brought into the classroom. Children could be provided with books about butterflies, both fiction and non-fiction. Small group discussions could be about different types/colors of butterflies, charting favorites. A free choice activity could be to sort the parts of the life cycle of the butterfly.

I think the point here is that sometimes opportunities for science experiences just happen, unplanned. And that is the perfect time to encourage some wonder. As I said in that previous blog, “There are many ways to do science everywhere; to look for ways that allow children to make their own discoveries of the world around them. Children are born scientists; they already have lots of questions and want to explore. It is simply our job to let them…”