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Young learners should have plentiful access to science opportunities

science-learnersScience, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills are regularly emphasized as critical to student success, but less attention is paid to STEM skills for early learners.

The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), in a statement and recommendations concerning children from ages 3 through preschool, notes that research indicates young children are able to construct conceptual learning and use reasoning and inquiry at even young ages.

In fact, many adults, including educators, underestimate children’s ability to learn core science ideas an dpractices in early years, and thus they tend to not give them opportunities to learn science skills and build science understanding.

(Next page: Science recommendations for early learners)

Teachers and other education providers who work in early learning should:

1. Recognize that encouraging young children’s curiosity and giving them experiences in early science content experiences is a valuable practice.

2. Know that children explore and encounter science learning and experiences each day, but they should be encouraged to ask questions and explore those concepts in greater detail.

3. Use open-ended and inquiry-based explorations to guide and focus children’s natural interests and abilities.

4. Make sure that children have opportunities each day to engage in science inquiry and learning by developing a rich, positive, and safe environment for exploration and discovery.

5. Emphasize science and engineering practices and the processes of asking questions and defining problems, developing and using models, investigating, obtaining information, and more.

6. Recognize that science helps students develop math skills and learn math concepts, and it also gives students a chance to develop literacy skills and concepts.

NSTA also recommends that educators be given professional development experiences that will give them hands-on science learning and investigation experience. Those opportunities should be ongoing and should expose educators to a range of science teaching strategies.

The NSTA’s recommendations come on the heels of U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s comments during the National Governors Association’s Winter 2014 meeting in February. In those comments, Duncan detailed a number of reasons why a high-quality early learning expansion is “inevitable.”

Public awareness about the importance of early learning is much greater and more supported today, Duncan noted. In fact, state and local early learning programs are receiving more funding for creation and expansion.

An increased number of public advocates and policymakers know that quality is key for early learning programs, especially now that a majority of states are, for the first time, assessing children’s school readiness when they begin kindergarten. Results from those assessments indicate that many children are not well-equipped to begin school.

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Laura Ascione

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