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Early Years Educators supporting scientific enquiry with young children

Kathleen Tuite


Tuesday 15 November 2016

- Kathleen Tuite and Máire Corbett


Aistear’s Exploring and Thinking theme is all about supporting children to learn about and make sense of the world around them. Curiosity is one of the learning dispositions central to Aistear. Children are naturally curious and fascinated by plants, animals, nature, cause and effect and how things work. Science is all around us, and children need to be actively supported to engage with it and enjoy all that it has to offer.


In this weeks blog we look at some simple ways in which early years settings have introduced scientific exploration with babies, toddlers and pre-school children. Through photographic examples we see where early years eductors facilitate children’s active involvement in the scientific process, by providing materials, encouraging children to observe, predict, describe and theorise about what they are doing and enquiring about. Where adults have posed questions and commented as children play and investigage. Where adults have helped young children to grow in their thinking and scientific understanding.

This weeks blog also highlights how young children can be supported with scientific exploration by providing time and opportunities to engage with nature, to play and experiment with natural and man-made materials. Science is all around us and children are budding scientists who touch, taste, smell, push, pour, bang, turn things up-side down, inside out and watch what happens!.


Below are a collection of these scientific opportunities and we would like to thank all the early years settings whom we have collected these examples from.

We would also love to hear from you about what opportunities you are providing in your early years setting!


Ceramic plant pots of different sizes on grass - Early Years Educators supporting scientific enquiry with young children


Planting is a great way of giving children a love of nature and a sense of time. Talking about the bulbs or plants, looking at the picture and planting the bulbs right way up are valuable experiences for children. This setting laminated the picture of the bulbs so it is clear and weather proof.



A nature table with pine cones, acorns, chestnuts and leaves  - Early Years Educators supporting scientific enquiry with young children This nature table is a really hands on space for active learning. The pictures at the back feature beautiful autumn scenes and the pine cones, acorns, chestnuts and leaves provide opportunities for children to touch, feel, smell and discuss the real life items.


Display of leaves - Early Years Educators supporting scientific enquiry with young children Novel ways of displaying leaves. The leaves are laid on clear contact paper and another sheet of contact placed over them. They are then secured on a window, so the light shines through. The shape of the leaves, the veins on the leaves, the lovely colours are all great talking points with the chilren, sparking their curiosity!



Child holding spoon of muck with a worm - Early Years Educators supporting scientific enquiry with young children Children love worms. Digging in soil reveals many wonders….not least the wiggly worm! Teasing out where worms live, what they do, how they aerate soil, why birds like them….lots of opportunity for scientific conversations!


ScienceWeekBlog6 Dinosaurs have an eternal fascination for children. Having them outdoors and exploring with them in nature makes the experience even richer. The complex names of the various dinosaurs intruige children and they love trying them out. Discussions about dinosaurs give opportunities for talk about volcanos, lava, the idea of extinction and other lovely words like paleontology, excavation, herbivore and carnivore can be tried out too!


Close up of apples growing on a tree - Early Years Educators supporting scientific enquiry with young children Growing food is a great way to introduce children to agriculture science. If you are lucky enough to have an apple tree, treasure it! If not you can grow smaller things like rhubarb, as this setting did!
Rhubarb plants - Early Years Educators supporting scientific enquiry with young children These photos are from Stepping Stones Preschool, based in the grounds of Stonehall National School, Co Clare.


Scientific enquiry with babies and toddlers too!

Treasure baskets can be a wonderful way to support scientific enquiry with babies and toddlers. With the addition of some household items for example, plastic scent bottles, shells, spools and recycled materials.



Puddles for toddlers can offer many opportunities to explore cause and effect, what happens if I wiggle my fingers and hands in the puddle, what happens if I add some stones or twigs into the water? Scientific enquiry and hands-on experiences.


  Sand outdoors for toddlers to explore with their whole bodies, the science of movement, the impact of weight, flattening the sand, displacing the particles of sand with the movement of the feet or hands. Great fun too!


  Investigating the affordances of nature. What happens when grass is mixed with water? What will happen when the dishes are placed at the end of the water spout? Toddlers make all sorts of scientific enquiries, investigating their own working theories. This is why it is critical to provide interest and opportunity both outdoors and indoors.


  Playdough supports scientific investigation, the materials, how they go from wet to dry, then sticky, then pliable enough to allow young children to shape, pound, stretch, roll, flatten. Toddlers and young children can explore elasticity and early years educators can support them with concept formation and the use of scientific language in their descriptions.


The above photos were taken with kind permission from the parents of the children attending Scallywags Crèche, Fenagh, Co. Carlow, along with the opening photograph.

We would love to hear your thoughts and ideas as this is Science week, please share in the comments box below. 

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