The Benefits of Learning Science in Early Childhood

For many when the subject of science is brought up images of the cell, frog dissections, and planets come to mind. While these are important topics for students to learn and become familiar with there is underlying importance to the subject in terms of critical thinking, [scientific] inquiry, raising questions, making observations, and coming to conclusions. The Center for Childhood Creativity compiled research in their report The Roots of STEM Success: Changing Early Learning Experiences to Build Lifelong Thinking Skills and found 6 key facts about early STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education and its importance:

  1. STEM thinking naturally begins in infancy
  2. To become strong STEM thinkers, children need more play
  3. STEM amplifies language development; language enables STEM thinking
  4. Active, self-directed learning builds STEM skills and interest 
  5. Mindset matters to STEM success
  6. Children’s abstract thinking potential can be unlocked through both adult support and executive function skill development

Building the Case for Academic Success

These types of findings help bolster the building research in terms of academic success exposure to learning science has on young students. The most basic foundations of science and the scientific method (ask a question, observation, hypothesis, experiment, test results, come to a conclusion) are not only accessible to young kids but something that they naturally already do. 

Deann Kuhn and Susan Pearsall of Columbia University focused on tracking the developmental origins of scientific thinking and found that children as young as 2 or 3 are strongly showing these behaviors. Harnessing that natural curiosity into an educational foundation that leads to future success is a pivotal period of time that should be taken advantage of. 

Integration in the Classroom

This has led to the push for standards, such as Next Generation Science Standards(NGSS), to be developed and used as a basis for early childhood science education due to the severe lack of specialized focus on the subject itself. This gives science-based standards to teachers and helps them build this important foundational knowledge for their students. 

Challenging students to interact with the world around them in a tangible way, ask inquisitive questions, and encourage independent thought and experimentation can be integrated with cross-curricular content and benefits the students unilaterally. National Geographic Learning’s Best Practices in Science Education research led by Dr. Kathy Cabe Trundle found that students are able to transfer these skills to other academic domains easily.

In a world with STEM becoming more important for future job prospects the more vital to raise our students to be scientifically inclined. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) student achievement in science has been at a near standstill for the last 15 years. During this time, more countries eclipse the United States in scientific achievement. This is a huge issue as between 2017 and 2027 STEM-related jobs will grow faster than non-STEM jobs which is a pattern that has been consistent since around the early 2000s. 

Unless we place a larger focus on scientific-based thinking the United States will continue to be outpaced by other countries but more importantly, we place our students in a disadvantageous position that can affect the course of their entire lives.

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