Jean Piaget, a child development theorist and pioneer observed that children are “active builders of knowledge- little scientists who construct their own theories of the world.” He established four stages of development that children experience: Sensorimotor (Ages 0-2), Preoperational (Ages 2-6), Concrete operations (Ages 6-11), and Formal operations (Ages 11-adult). You can read a brief explanation here. He basically concluded that young children don’t think like adults, and that by allowing a child’s learning to be a “hands-on” exploratory process (versus simply transmitting information to them), we help them build their own knowledge. If you get tired of your little one always asking “WHY?” remember that asking questions is their job as a little scientist.
Exploring the outdoors has been a favorite activity with my two active sons this summer. Even something as simple as walking around the neighborhood or park can lead to new observations and active learning. There is a large rock bordering a garden bed in our backyard, and almost daily, my preschooler asks me to help lift it up so he can look underneath for bugs. We talk about what the spiders or worms might be doing. We also check the progress of our tomato plants every day, taking great delight in watching the tomatoes grow bigger, gradually transitioning from bright green to a deep orange-ish red.
Some of my favorite picture books speak to early discoveries about nature: Owl Moon by Jane Yolen, The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, Listen to the Rain by Bill Martin, Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert, The Listening Walk by Paul Showers, Denise Fleming’s books such as Beetle Bop and In the Tall, Tall Grass, The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle…I could go on and on!
Reading Rockets has some solid suggestions for “building background knowledge” with your child: 1. take field trips, 2. talk about it and 3. follow up with a book. This supports the learning model Piaget found so valuable- allowing kids to get direct experiences with the world around them- experiencing, discussing, exploring, pondering, questioning- etc. then extending that knowledge with good books (the books I mentioned are stories, but I recommend using a mix of easy nonfiction books and picture books, according to specific topic). One book series that helps kids learn about science is Joanna Cole’s The Magic School Bus series, and there are some cool online resources for helping kids learn about the natural world, including this one. Check out this page for more ideas to help nurture your little scientist!