Exploring the classroom: Teaching science in early childhood



This study tested and integrated the effects of an inquiry-based didactic method for preschool science in a real practical classroom setting. Four preschool classrooms participated in the experiment (N= 57) and the children were 4–6 years old. In order to assess children’s attention for causal events and their understanding at the level of scientific reasoning skills, we designed a simple task in which a need for information gain was created. Compared to controls, children in the post-test showed significant learning gains in the development of the so-called control of variables strategy. Indeed, they executed more informative and less uninformative explorations during their spontaneous play. Furthermore, the importance of such programmes was discussed in the field of STEM education.


Preschool science, STEM-education, problem-solving, inquiry learning

Paper Details

Paper Details
Topic Early Childhood Education
Pages 537 - 558
Issue IEJEE, Volume 8, Issue 4
Date of acceptance 12 June 2016
Read (times) 537
Downloaded (times) 372

Author(s) Details


University College of Vives, Belgium

Nele De WIT

University College of Vives, Belgium


Bullock, M., & Ziegler, A. (1999). Scientific reasoning: Developmental and individual differences. In F.E. Weinert & W. Schneider (Eds.), Individual differences from 3 to 12: Findings from the Munick longitudinal study (pp. 38-54). New York: Academic Press.

Brenneman, K. (2011). Assessment for preschool science learning and learning environments. Early Childhood Research and Practice, 13(1).

Chen, Z. & Klahr, D. (1999). All Other Things being Equal: Children’s Acquisition of the Control of Variables Strategy, Child Development, 70, 1098–1120.

Concept to Classroom (2016). Retrieved from http://www.thirteen.org/ edonline/ concept2class/ inquiry/index_sub1.html

Cook, C., Goodman, N., & Schulz, L. E. (2011). Where science starts: Spontaneous experiments in preschoolers' exploratory play. Cognition, 120(3), 341-349.

Creative Little Scientists (2013) Country Reports on in-depth field work . Deliverable 4.3

Addenda. EU Project (FP7) (Coordinator: Ellinogermaniki Agogi, Greece). Report 1 of 9: Belgium Lead Authors: H. Van Houte and K. Devlieger.

French, L. (2004). Science as the center of a coherent, integrated, early childhood curriculum. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 19, 138-149.

Gelman, R., Brenneman, K., Macdonald, G., & Román, M. (2009). Preschool pathways to science (PrePS): Facilitating scientific ways of thinking, talking, doing, and understanding. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.

Glenberg, A.M. (2011). How reading comprehension is embodied and why that matters. International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education, 4(1), 5-18.

Harlen (2013). Inquiry-based learning in science and mathematics. Review of science, mathematics, and ICT education, 7(2), 9-33.

Kerns, K.A., Eso, K., & Thomson, J. (1999). Investigation of a direct intervention for improving attention in young children with ADHD. Developmental Neuropsychology, 16, 273-295.

Klahr, D., & Nigam, M. (2004). The equivalence of learning paths in early science instruction: Effects of direct instruction and discovery learning. Psychological Science, 15(10), 661-667.

Kuhn, D., & Dean, D. (2005). Is developing scientific thinking all about learning to control variables? Psychological Science, 16, 866-870.

Lorch, R.F.Jr., Lorch, E.P., Calderhead, W.J., Dunlap, E.E., Hodell, E.C., Freer, B.D., & Lorch, E.P. (2008). Learning the control of variables strategy in higher and lower achieving classrooms: Contributions of explicit instruction and experimentation. Journal of Educational Psychology, 102(1), 90-101.

Mantzicopoulos, P., & Samrapungavan, H.P.A. (2007). Young chidren’s motivational beliefs about learning science. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 23, 378-349.

Masnick, A. M., & Klahr, D. (2003). Error matters: An initial exploration of elementary school children’s understanding of experimental error. Journal of Cognition and Development, 4, 67-98.

Moomaw, S., & Davis, J. A. (2010). STEM comes to preschool. Young Children, 65(5) 12-14, 16-18.

National Science Board (2007). A national action plan for addressing the critical needs of the U.S. Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Edcuation System. Retrieved September 1, 2014, from http://www.nsf.gov/nsb/documents/2007/stem_action.pdf

Nayfeld, I., Brenneman, K., & Gelman, R. (2011). Science in the classroom: Finding a balance between autonomous exploration and teacher-led instruction in preschool settings. Early Education & Development, 22, 6, 970-988.

Park Rogers, M. (2011). Implementing a science-based interdisciplinary curriculum in the second grade: a community of practice in action. International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education, 3(2), 83-103.

Peterson, S.M., & French, L. (2008). Supporting young children's explanations through inquiry science in preschool. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 23(3), 395–408.

French, L. (2004). Science as the center of a coherent, integrated early childhood curriculum. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 9, 138-149.

Gallenstein, N.L. 2005. Engaging Young Children in Science and Mathematics. Journal of Elementary Science Education, 17, 2, 27-41.

Gelman, R., Brenneman, K., Macdonald, G., & Roman, M. (2009). Preschool pathways to science (PrePS): Facilitating scientific ways of knowing, thinking, talking, and doing. Baltimore, MD: Brookes.

Gopnik, A., Sobel, D., Schulz, L., & Glymour, C. (2001). Causal learning mechanisms in very young children: Two, three, and four-year-olds infer causal relations from patterns of variation and covariation. Developmental Psychology 37, 5, 620-629.

Saçkes, M., Akman, B., & Trundle, K. C. A Science Methods Course for Early Childhood Teachers: A Model for Undergraduate Pre-Service Teacher Education. Necatibey Faculty of Education Electronic Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 6(2), 1-26.

Schauble, L. (1996). The development of scientific reasoning in knowledge-rich contexts. Developmental Psychology, 49, 31-57.

Seligman, M.E.P. (1975). Helplessness: On Depression, Development, and Death. San Francisco: W.H. Freeman.

Smitsman, A. W., & Corbetta, D. (2010). Action in infancy: Perspectives, concepts, and challenges. In J. G. Bremner & T. D. Wachs (Eds.), The Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of Infant Development (2nd edition), Volume 1: Basic Research (pp. 167-203). Chichester, West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell Ltd.

Sweller, J (1988). Cognitive load during problem solving: Effects on learning. Cognitive Science 12(2), 257–285.

van Schijndel, T.J.P., Singer, E., van der Maas H.L.J., & Raijmakers M.E.J. (2010). A sciencing programme and young childrenʼs exploratory play in the sandpit. The European Journal of Developmental Psychology, 7(5), 603-617. DOI 10.1080/17405620903412344.

Van Geert, P., & Steenbeek, H. (2005a). Explaining after by before. Basic aspects of a dynamic systems approach to the study of development. Developmental Review, 25(3-4), 408-442.

Yan, Z., & Fischer, K.W. (2002). Always under construction: Dynamic variations in adult cognitive development. Human Development, 45, 141-160.

Zohar, A., & Barzilai, S. (2013). A review of research on metacognition in science education: Current and future directions. Studies in Science Education, 49(2), 121-169.