Chris Curran, PhD, gave a presentation a little over a week ago to at the UNC School of Education about the importance, and lack of, science education in early childhood. Preschools and kindergarten classes focus more on reading and math skills than science. Though these skills are valuable and important to teach at a young age, they are not the only skills that are worthy of being taught. One of the points that Dr. Curran made that resonated with me was that kids are natural scientist. They may not fit the stereotypical “Einstien” image or wear a lab coat, but this if this is how our society defines a scientist, that is precisely why we need to foster children’s natural tendencies for exploring the “how’s” and “why’s” of the world around them.
You see, children are curious, excited, constantly asking questions (though this gets on the nerves of parents and babysitters), and observing the world around them. They are willing to take risks and take the time to take things apart or try to figure out how to do something. Furthermore, they think outside the box. They don’t limit themselves to thinking about how things have always been done or what is to be considered possible by those around them. Yes, their ideas may be a bit preposterous at times, but often this sparks an idea that is possible and fosters the creative mind.
In our Politics of Reading Class, we learned about a study that gave kids the challenge of coming up with as many uses for a paper clip as they could. If they came up with 200 or more, they were considered to be a genius. 98% of kindergarteners reached this “genius” level, as they did not limit themselves to the standard size, silver paper clip that most people think of.
Some of them came up with uses for giant paper clips, paper clips made out of pool noodles or paper clips that were heat resistant. Think about that. How many of us would even consider what the paper clip is made out of or how big it is. This is why young children make such great scientists.
This same test was given to kids later in elementary school and a much smaller percentage reached this level. The children didn’t change. However, their thinking had been limited. If schools fostered this imaginative, out-side the box thinking and exploratory learning, this number of genius kids would not be as dramatically altered. It’s time to change our standard way of thinking and foster kids’ curiosity. Math and reading can easily be incorporated into science learning. Counting, adding and subtracting and place value are easy to incorporate into an experiment or figuring out how far apart of plant seeds so that the plants will grow or figuring out the speed of a Hot Wheels car.
Reading about science or using a book to spark questions and exploratory learning is not so difficult. Why not foster these genius children so that their ideas change the way that we think and possibly help us solve some scientific problems. If we encourage creativity and curiosity these geniuses will grow up and remain geniuses. Without doing this, the kids lose out and we lose out on the possibility within them.