This week Dr. Christopher Curran from the University of Maryland visited UNC. He gave a lecture on the correlation of teaching science in preschool and positive experiences in kindergarten in science and other subjects.
This topic sounds intense and slightly overwhelming, or at least it did to me, to be focused on teaching science in preschool, and Dr. Curran addressed this. He said “Science tests in preschool? Really? Really.”
He went on to provide his research and findings on how encouraging children as young as three and four to observe, think and act scientifically in a formal classroom setting is beneficial to their experiences not only with science in kindergarten but also in math, reading and other subjects.
I was taken aback by the suggestion that preschoolers should be sitting in classrooms being instructed in the scientific method, theories, and findings. This seems to be very high level and just another thing to keep the students in desks at such a young age. Already, the trend is to get kids in traditional classrooms younger and for longer. Psychologically, this is proven to be ineffective for children and can even be detrimental by squashing any interest they may have had in school.
However, I do think that it is important for children to be exposed to science along with math and reading. Especially for boys, who are typically more inclined to prefer science over other subjects, giving kids the opportunity to gain a very basic understanding is a good idea.
During Dr. Curran’s talk I began to see how science could be incorporated into preschool learning centers in order to engage the students. Experiments and pictures could be key to adapting science for preschool. Even turning everyday activities, such as playing outside or coloring, could present opportunities to talk about certain science topics at a level preschoolers can grasp. In this way they will be all be able to have a basic understanding of practical science going into kindergarten.
The data presented from Dr. Curran’s research showed it is important for students to learn science, but this is an area a lot of children lack in kindergarten. Dr. Curran was offering preschool science as just one option for resolving this.
Another aspect of his talk that intrigued me was the fact that many students who have a head start in kindergarten, whether that be in science, reading, etc., due to their preschool program, experience what is called a “fade out”. This is where the gains the children made in preschool that set them ahead of the rest of their class fades out as the year progresses.
There has been research done on this topic, and a short article on edweek.com, linked here, presented an argument that while fade out may be real, there is still statistical evidence supporting early education programs.
This correlates to Dr. Curran’s research and the fact that strong early education in a variety of subjects will bolster and support elementary schooling. While, his talk focused on the necessity of science in preschool and kindergarten for higher performances in grade school, all the evidence and research I have seen says the winning combination is good preschool and high quality, personalized grade school.