Why is the sky blue? What makes the wind blow? Where does the rain come from? Any parent of young children is familiar with the daily onslaught of “the 5 W’s.” Researchers, led by child psychologist Dr. Sam Wass, surveyed 1,500 parents and concluded that children ask an average of 73 questions each day – almost four questions every waking hour. The analysis also revealed children’s inquisitive nature peaks at the age of four years old for both boys and girls.
Additional studies show that most children have formed an opinion (either positive or negative) about science by the time they reach the age of seven. Early childhood educators have a tremendous impact and influence on a child’s potential to seek out a career in science or engineering later in life. It is imperative for teachers to harness children’s innate sense of curiosity in their early years of formal education in order to foster a lifelong love of science.
Starting in their first years at Episcopal, students are provided rich and meaningful opportunities that encourage discovery through play to manipulate, explore, make predictions, ask questions, and use creativity to solve simple problems. Recently, the PreK-4 class was tasked with finding the best material to protect Humpty Dumpty when he fell off the wall. Classes joined forces to make predictions about how various materials would stand up in a fall, ranging from cotton to bubble wrap. Students then tested their hypotheses with an egg drop experiment. The children recorded their responses and shared the results with their families in their Seesaw journal.
Each year, students build on prior knowledge to expand their learning. Our youngest PreK-3 Knights explored their five senses by cooking a Thanksgiving feast. Over in Frazer Hall, PreK-4 investigated the sense of sight by mixing colors and exploring prisms and rainbows to learn about colors and light. Across the hall in Kindergarten, classes spent several weeks learning about each of the five senses. They did a taste test with Chef Pat, smelled various spices and studied the inner workings of the ear, bringing in guest experts to talk about sound and how our ears interpret vibrations.
Coding provides another avenue for Episcopal’s young learners to train their brains for the future. In the early childhood program, students begin to use Beebot and Ozobot. The children program simple commands to navigate the robot to its desired location. This year Beebot has navigated neighborhoods during PreK’s study of communities and helped Kindergarten learn about the number line in math. Ozobot “delivered” Christmas presents to different friends as the children programmed his path.
In addition to these formal science experiences, students are also given ample free time to explore and process what they have learned. Whether it is sticking their hands into a slimy pumpkin at Halloween, balancing blocks to build a tall tower through trial and error, observing their shadows on a sunny day, or discovering a butterfly chrysalis in the garden, these organic and natural experiences provide the foundation for children to become critical thinkers and problem solvers.
With the appropriate guidance, this natural curiosity and need to make sense of the world lay the groundwork for the skills that students will need to succeed throughout their years at Episcopal and beyond. With careers in Science and Technology continually on the rise, our youngest learners are gaining the competence, readiness, and confidence to be the future scientists and computer programmers of the world.
Julie Mendes, a 2001 graduate of Episcopal, returned to teach Pre-K4 at her alma mater in 2012. She received both her undergraduate degree and MEd in elementary education at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. After teaching second grade in a Dual Language program in Texas public schools for three years, Julie moved abroad to teach first grade at a bilingual school in Gracias, Lempira Honduras. Julie enjoys teaching alongside some of her former teachers and seeing what life is like on the other side of the desk.