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Science and Approaches to Learning: A Mutual Relationship

Approaches to learning are a set of domain-general skills including curiosity, persistence, planning, and engagement. These are important skills because they support learning regardless of the topic or content. In fact, researchers have identified strong links between approaches to learning skills and multiple school readiness domains, including math and language among preschoolers (McWayne, Fantuzzo, & McDermott, 2004).

Additional research at the University of Miami has identified strong associations between science and approaches to learning skills as well (Bustamante, White, & Greenfield, 2017), suggesting that children’s approaches to learning skills help them to succeed in science. By supporting the development of these skills early, we can help our children be successful across a variety of learning and development. It is also likely that engagement in science experiences supports children’s development of approaches to learning skills. Think about it…

It is quite difficult to teach children to be persistent and curious without doing so within the context of some type of task or activity. Now think about a typical science experience, such as a child designing a ramp structure that will allow his ball to roll a really far distance. He is curious as to how far he can make it go. Likely, there will be a series of trial and error as he creates a structure, encounters problems, and reconfigures his design (planning). Thirty minutes later (engagement) and 5 different versions of this ramp structure, then finally success (persistence)! Look at all the opportunities for children to practice being curious, to be persistent, to plan, and to stay engaged!

Science, by nature, affords children the opportunity to build their learning skills. Science begins with children’s curiosity and questions about their world. They predict, plan and investigate to discover the answers to their questions. Moreover, science learning can be tailored to occur within content that children are personally interested in, thereby spurring their engagement and desire to persist.


McWayne, C. M., Fantuzzo, J. W., & McDermott, P. A. (2004). Preschool competency in context: An investigation of the unique contribution of child competencies to early academic success. Developmental Psychology, 40(4), 633–645

Bustamante, A. S., White, L. J., & Greenfield, D. B. (2017). Approaches to learning and school readiness in Head Start: Applications to preschool science. Learning and Individual Differences, 56, 112-118.

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