Children are born curious, eager to explore their world. When adults view children as scientists, we recognize the role they play in their own dramatic growth and change. Through science, we can support early learners first by trusting their desire to learn as they engage with the world and also by ensuring that the environments we create for them offer opportunities to deepen, connect and extend their learning.
Developmental psychologists have studied human development for decades. Their work supports our efforts at the Early Science Initiative where we believe that high quality teaching and learning should engage children in hands-on, minds-on experiences grounded in culturally and contextually relevant content. Piaget asserts that children play an active role in their own development as they explore their world. The child takes in new information as they explore and grapple with the dissonance of foreign ideas as they seek to find connections and meaning, thus spurring and fortifying development. As such, we encourage the adults in children’s lives to provide children with time and space to explore materials and objects freely, wherein the adult serves as a quiet observer, respecting the child’s immense capacity to learn and discover.
We also adhere to Vygotsky’s theories that posit development as a highly social process, wherein children learn and develop with and from others. Vygotsky’s theory of the Zone of Proximal Development drives our approach to how educators and families can serve to model, label, and invite children into thinking and behaving like scientists. This approach to scaffolding helps to make children’s natural inclinations to ask questions and investigate more meaningful, intentional, and when appropriate, challenging, so as to support them as they build understandings.
This delicate dance between free exploration and intentional scaffolding can ebb and flow across the day. Approach your children with curiosity and respect for their process. The more we can understand their perspectives, the better able we are to support their developmental journey.