Early science education: Play it, learn it!

WOW Jul 01, 2019

Five years old children are sitting around the table. They wear white coats and safety goggles. They measure carefully transparent liquid inside the bottle. “One, two, three…” they count together how many pipettefuls of vinegar they have added. One child holds the balloon while the other one measures baking soda inside it. They attach the balloon around the mouth of the bottle and the baking soda falls to the bottom of the bottle where the vinegar is. Immediately the solution starts fizzing and bubbling. Children cheer and laugh as the balloon inflates. “We did it! Let’s report this to Hoseli the Robot”, children shout joyfully.

The previous episode was from Kide Science lesson, where 3 - 6 years old children solved a problem about how to inflate a balloon utilizing a chemical reaction. However, the setting to do the experiment is far away from traditional approaches to science. This inquiry task was sent from far away space from the place that is called Supraland. In Suprlaland lives characters that are very familiar for children. One of the characters is Hoseli the Robot who is now in big trouble. Hoseli needs children’s help to solve the problem to inflate balloons. Further, in this science lesson, children are not only learners, but they are small scientists: the active agents and knowledge builders. This all is made possible through the playful Kide -approach in science.

When we look at the research, scholars are unanimous in the fact that science and scientific thinking needs to be introduced for children already in their early years. Early science education promotes children’s self-competence, motivation, and interest in science. Further, early science instruction produces better learning outcomes later in school. However, not all kinds of early science instruction are effective for young children. Early science education requires remarkably different pedagogical approaches than what are usually implemented with school-aged children.

Children benefit science instruction that is based on play. A play is a fundamental way for children to practice a different kind of skills as social, emotional and everyday skills. According to research, a play is a highly effective way to teach science as well for young children. Through play, children will be able to relate scientific concepts and practices to their cultural worlds and hence, make science relevant for themselves. By playing, children are able to embrace the practices that are essential for the scientific process.

When we talk about young children’s science education, it is essential to understand what are the desired learning outcomes. According to research, young children do not benefit from the acquisition of detailed scientific content knowledge but the greatest advantage is gained by allowing children to practice the scientific process which in turn, develops scientific thinking skills. For young learners, the scientific process is practiced by paying attention to science process skills. Science process skills are universal skills needed in all fields of science to inquiry and to find out. Basic science skills hold skills as making observations and describing them in a scientific way, measuring, classifying, cooperating, and drawing conclusions. Furthermore, a very important aim of early childhood science education is to develop positive attitudes towards science and to help children build a positive self-image as a capable science learner. Therefore, it is essential to pay attention on how we can produce positive emotions during science education.

Although the benefits of early science education are well understood from the viewpoint of a child and a society, still early science education is not happening in early education or is implemented with inappropriate pedagogies. One major reason for that is the teacher’s low feeling of competence in the field of science. They feel that they do not master science at such a level that they could introduce it to children. Another usual obstacle is that teachers feel that planning science activities is difficult and even if they have well-developed knowledge in science they struggle to introduce science in a way that is appropriate for young children.

Kide Science is a Finnish pedagogical STEAM innovation that offers teachers with top quality curriculum materials to implement early science education in a playful way. Kide Science pedagogy is grounded on rigorous scientific research and it follows the acknowledged Finnish philosophy on early education. When children are doing science with Kide curriculum, they feel like playing and enjoying but in fact, they are all the time building highly important skills needed in the scientific process and thinking. For teachers, Kide Science is an easy plug-and-play method to make sure that their pupils will gain the skills needed in the future.

Kide Science uses storytelling as a powerful tool to motivate children into science activities. The story world of Kide is free of cultural stamps because it stems from the imaginary world called Supraland that located in a different dimension. In Supraland forests are made from crystals and animals are geometric shapes, for instance. That kind of world celebrates children’s natural curiosity and imagination without binding it to a specific cultural environment.

About our guest author-

Jenni Vartiainen PhD, researcher and co-founder of Kide Science 

Dr Jenni Vartiainen have been working since 2006 in the field of science education innovations and research. She developed new creative approaches to science education and trained pre- and in-service teachers. Her main focus is on young children's (age 3-10 years) playful science education. Her other interests include EdTech -solutions, and multiliteracy. At the moment, Dr Vartiainen is working at the University of Helsinki as a researcher in an inspiring project (MOI) that promotes 0 - 8-year-old's multiliteracy.

Dr Vartiainen second position is at Kide Science where she lead the multi-talented team that aims to bring playful and fun science clubs near to every child all over the world. Their innovative digital product ensures that every child everywhere has an opportunity to do amazing science experiments at home.

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