Building on prior experience

Child with adultsThis month I was able to spend unstructured time with a 2.5 year old and her family. In my position as an observer, not teacher, care-giver or parent, I could enjoy only observing—observing without a purpose outside my own interest. This open-ended vacation mode of observation may not have sharpened my thinking or provoke deep understanding but it allowed me to think for a long time about how children wonder and ask questions about their environment.

For example, she asked some questions that showed how curious she is about the world. “Momma, why are there numbers on the microwave?” (I was surprised that she knew the symbols were numbers!) And she said this about the staples holding an inexpensive paperback book together: “Why do they have these pins in here?” The answers about the function of the numbers for counting, and the function of the staples (new word for her) for holding, related to familiar concepts.

She was identifying an object or phenomena of interest and expressing her interest in finding out. It reminded me of another child who, at an earlier age, would point at objects and say, “Dhat!”

Children’s early exploration of, and reasoning about, the world is noted in the Framework for K–12 science education: Practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas, a document based on research, which was the basis for the structure and content of the Next Generation Science Standards for K-12 (NGSS). In a section titled “Children are Born Investigators” (pg 24), the Framework states, “In fact, the capacity of young children—from all backgrounds and socioeconomic levels—to reason in sophisticated ways is much greater than has long been assumed [1]. Although they may lack deep knowledge and extensive experience, they often engage in a wide range of subtle and complex reasoning about the world [20-23].”

(Reference 1, to the National Research Council’s 2007 publication Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8, and other references are on pages 35-36.)

That learning about the natural world begins before kindergarten is also recognized in the NGSS where the science and engineering practices used to develop the kindergarten performance expectations all state “builds on prior experiences.”

Parents, other care-givers and preschool teachers are the adults who are able to provide those experiences and answer questions that follow. We all need time to make the most of moments in our daily lives, and to be able to learn about, plan and implement experiences.

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