How do we keep alive this inborn sense of wonder in
early childhood classrooms? How can teachers provide
children with appropriate experiences and guidance?
Using the Young Scientist series is one way. But before
we describe the series and how to use this guide, we
would like to share a few responses to two important
questions: (1) Why is science knowledge important?
and (2) Why should we start in the preschool years?
Why Is Science
One goal of science is to understand the natural world.
Knowing some science can help us explain why things
happen, such as why water evaporates and why plants
grow in particular locations, what causes disease, and
how electricity works. Scientific knowledge also can
help us predict what might happen—when a hurricane
may hit the coast or how severe the flu will be this
But science is more than knowledge; it is also a
process of exploration that we call scientific inquiry.
When scientists try to learn something about events,
objects, or materials, they observe wonder, and ask
questions. And they go further and focus on one ques-
tion, predicting what they think they might find out
and setting up an investigation. They observe closely,
using their senses and tools to collect and record data
and evidence. Through analysis of their data and re-
flection on all they’ve done, they develop new ideas
and theories and communicate those to others.
Most of us are not scientists, but in many small ways,
we do science. When you ask the question, “How much
light does my geranium need to flower well?” then test
the different possibilities by putting one in the sun
and one in the shade to find your answer, you are doing
science. When you compare two pens, predict which
one you think will work best for the drawing you are
making, and then try them out, you are doing science.
When you use a book to find out what kind of bird-
seed will attract cardinals, you are doing science.
Whether we work in a lab or a school, chart the
courses of hurricanes, or want to learn about sound, we
all have questions—scientists and nonscientists, adults
and children alike—and we all use some of the basic
tools of scientific inquiry. Given the opportunity to ex-
plore and discover, we can feel the sense of wonder,
joy, and excitement that Rachel Carson describes above.
“In a world filled with the products of scientific inquiry, scientific literacy has become a necessity for everyone.
Everyone needs to use scientific information to make choices that arise every day. Everyone needs to be able to
engage intelligently in public discourse and debate about important issues that involve science and technology.
And everyone deserves to share in the excitement and personal fulfillment that can come from understanding
and learning about the natural world” (National Research Council 1996, 1).
“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can
share it, rediscovering with him the joy, the excitement, and the mystery of the world” (Carson 1965).