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Inspired Insights: Preschool Scientists

Astronaut Mae C. Jemison says, “Some of the most fun people I know are scientists.” I agree, totally! Some of the most fun people I know are the budding scientists known as preschoolers. Three and four year olds work instinctively like scientists, noticing what is funny, different, odd, interesting, and curious in the world around them – and wondering what it all means.

One of our preschool traditions at Inspired Teaching Demonstration School is taking neighborhood walks.These excursions shine a spotlight on children’s innate skill of scientific inquiry. We enjoy walking to the construction site of our new community center and playground, seeing how this is growing and changing over time. We stop, we notice. That excavator! Whoa! Back at school, we print weekly photos of the site, and compare these to the previous photos - to see what is the same and what is different. We ask: What do you see? What do you think is going on? What does it make you wonder?

Being outside engages so many senses – you see, smell, hear, feel, and notice. Our walks are slow and thoughtful, as we look for people, animals, shapes, alphabet letters, and more. On a shapes hunt, the children began to see that everything has a shape – whether the circular wheels on a car or the triangular fungus on trees.
One day we set out to look for animals; some children predicted what we would see a camel, an elephant, or a tiger. We did not see any of these, but we found butterflies, spiders, bees, and bugs. When we looked closer at the square planters on the corner of our school, we noticed a whole amazing world of many, hundreds, of small, red “true bugs.” Unlike many adults, every preschooler found it irresistible to lean in and look closely at these. How I admire their scientific ease! Here is some of the children’s thinking, as they observed the bugs:

“Look! Baby crawly bugs”

“These are leaf bugs”
“I see bugs in there.”
“And they looks red. I see them move, too!”
“What are the red things on the beetles?”
“Whoa! Bug! Look at this big thing!”
“Bugs climbing! What happened to the other one?”
“Look over here, here! Look, it’s stuck together. Why are they stuck together?”
“Look, they are going in. They are all stuck together. I guess that Mommy got the baby from her tummy.”

Preschoolers ask questions as they observe, helping to further each other’s understanding. Like the natural scientists that they are, preschoolers are fascinated with their findings. Back in the classroom, we document what they saw and learned, make observational drawings, and investigate the subject further through books and other resources.

If we hope to foster tomorrow’s problem-solvers and decision-makers, it begins with recognizing the thinkers and doers that preschoolers already are. We need to slow down alongside them, see what they see, investigate and research with them. Take a walk with a preschooler and open up to a world of wonder!
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