Too often, teaching children is done so in separate experiences, each one focusing on a specific learning domain. However, richer, more meaningful learning occurs when we teach across contexts. Science and literacy are just one example of how integrating learning across learning domains support the development of skills within both domains.
Consider the fact that building children’s vocabulary contributes toward greater reading comprehension. What better way to build vocabulary and content knowledge than through hands-on science experiences! (Cabell & Hwang, 2020). Children are introduced to a wide variety of rich vocabulary words as they engage in science investigations. For example, while exploring ramps and balls, children will likely be exposed to words such as incline and distance while also building an understanding of opposites such as fast-slow, long-short and top-bottom. As children begin to build their understanding of words and concepts, their semantic networks are strengthened providing them greater information to draw from when listening to or reading text (Willingham, 2006).
In addition to reading comprehension, engaging in hands-on science also supports both receptive and expressive language. (Conezio & French, 2002). As children engage in science practices, including observing and describing, making predictions, and communicating information, they are encouraged to express their understanding of content throughout an experience. When a child can articulate that an orange is round and bumpy on the outside, predict that it will also be orange on the inside and then communicates his discovery that he sees orange, white and brown on the inside, the child is using this science experience to learn new content as well as how to express this information through words.
Finally, language and literacy also support the understanding of science. Through stories, we have the opportunity to introduce science content in both visual and verbal form. From there, we can begin conversations and extend children’s understanding through investigations. The books we use to connect with science may be a non-fiction book with a specific science focus. However, even children’s classic storybooks offer a platform for provoking children’s thinking around science. While reading The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, for example, children are introduced to weather (earth sciences) and are able to explore cause and effect as the Peter’s footstep causes an impression in the snow or stability and change as the warmth from Peter’s pocket results in his snowball changing into water.
By providing experiences that support learning across multiple domains, you will be exposing children to greater learning opportunities. Rather than a 15 minute science lesson, followed by a 20 minute reading lesson and finally a 20 minute math lesson after recess, children will be making connections and building understanding within multiple content areas throughout the entire day.
Cabell, S. Q., & Hwang, H. (2020). Building content knowledge to boost comprehension in the primary grades. Reading Research Quarterly, 55, S99-S107.
Conezio, K., & French, L. (2002). Science in the preschool classroom. Young children, 57(5), 12-18
Willingham, D. T. (2006). How knowledge helps: It speeds and strengthens reading comprehension, learning-and thinking. American Educator, 30(1), 30.