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Early childhood education has been my life for over 30 years. I have taught all age groups from infants to 5-year-olds. I was a director for five years in the 1980s, but I returned to the classroom 22 years ago. My passion is watching the ways children explore and discover their world. In the classroom, everything starts with the reciprocal relationships between adults and children and between the children themselves. With that in mind, I plan and set up activities. But that is just the beginning. What actually happens is a flow that includes my efforts to invite, respond and support children's interface with those activities and with others in the room. Oh yeh, and along the way, the children change the activities to suit their own inventiveness and creativity. Now the processes become reciprocal with the children doing the inviting, responding and supporting. Young children are the best learners and teachers. I am truly fortunate to be a part of their journey.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Scientific inquiry

I just finished doing a session at our annual state early childhood conference.  The session was on children's scientific inquiry at the water table.  Seeing the descriptions of other sessions on scientific inquiry and looking at the science curricula offered by numerous vendors (think STEM/STEAM), an age-old question of mine resurfaced: What constitutes science and scientific inquiry in an early childhood classroom? 

What I saw most often were science experiments that were planned and set up by the teacher to teach a scientific concept. The experiments varied in terms of how much the children participated and how much they observed.  They also varied in terms of opportunities for further inquiry.  Much of the time, the experiments were chosen for their dynamic effect, often bordering on magic.  Of course the idea was to have children think that science is cool and exciting.

To understand what constitutes science in early childhood education, I would like to invite you into a space of inquiry.  This is not quiz for which there is one "right" answer.   In this space, we are looking for ideas and perspectives that will shed some light on how children see and do science in the early years.

To invite you into that space of inquiry, I will present a video of children playing around the apparatus at the sand table that is pictured below.
The video clip focuses on the children's actions as they try to move the sand through just one of the cardboard chutes.

After viewing the clip, I will pose a couple of questions that will hopefully encourage a dialogue about science for young children.  Here goes.

Tapping the chute from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

What assumptions do you have about what constitutes science education for young children?

How does this episode confirm or not confirm your assumptions?

Feel free to comment---or not.  And again, I am not looking for a "right" answer.  I am interested in how others in the field think about the nature of scientific inquiry for young children and what can it look like in the classroom. 

Just to let you know, my son is a scientist and he does scientific experiments as a job.  For him, a scientific experiment consists of isolating and controlling variables to find out as clearly as possible cause and effect.  The process is clearly defined and so is the expected outcome. When I show him an episode like this, we always discuss whether the children are playing or doing science.

Thank you in advance for joining the conversation. 

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