AN UNDERSTANDING OF THE PA EARLY CHILDHOOD STANDARDS
St. Paul’s Preschool follows the Pennsylvania Early Standards as we create and adapt our curriculum to the various age groups within our school. Each month I will examine one of the standards we are focusing on in the classes and explain how the teachers are implementing it into their curriculum.
Standard 3.3a Earth and Space Sciences: Earth Structure, processes, and cycles
Young children are naturally curious and constantly exploring the world around them. The preschool classroom is a perfect environment to provide opportunities for the children to extend this natural curiosity and build theories. From classroom experiences, children can develop a greater appreciation and understanding of the natural world. Science provides children with direct experience with materials, events and ideas that are important to later learning. Science exploration in the early childhood classroom is science inquiry-exploring materials/events, asking questions, investigating, recording/representing their work, reflecting on what they have done and what it means-allowing them to create new theories or ideas about how the world works. These skills, attitudes and ways of thinking are important to many areas of learning throughout life.
Science in the preschool classroom helps children gain the following skills:
- Build self-confidence and confidence in their environment.
- Gain necessary firsthand experiences.
- Develop basic concepts.
- Increase observation skills.
- Receive opportunities to use tools, equipment, and familiar materials.
- Receive aid in problem solving.
- Stimulate their curiosity for exploration and discovery while increasing basic knowledge.
- Develop sensory, physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and social attributes.
- Develop language through increased vocabulary and an opportunity to ask and answer questions.
There are several characteristics to look for in a quality science program. First, it must build on children’s prior experiences, backgrounds, and early theories. It must draw on children’s curiosity and encourage children to pursue their own questions and develop their own ideas. It must also engage children in in-depth exploration of a topic over time in a carefully prepared environment. It must encourage children to reflect on, represent, and document their experiences and share and discuss their ideas with others. It must be embedded in children’s daily work and play and must be integrated with other domains. Finally, it must provide access to science explorations for all children, regardless of abilities and learning styles.
At St. Paul’s we are lucky to have a science resource teacher, Pam DeLuca, who works with the four and five year old students. Miss Pam works closely with the classroom teachers to choose a focus for inquiry based on the children’s interests. She creates a physical environment that supports inquiry by providing numerous hands-on activities. She encourages and fosters children’s questioning. She also encourages children’s work and deepens their understanding of their natural world.
The classroom teachers for all age levels also incorporate daily science activities. There is a science center set up in each room. There are large and small magnifying glasses, prisms, balance scales, mirrors, magnets, color paddles and a variety of objects to observe and measure provided. Often, the teachers add theme-related, age-appropriate books, puzzles and writing materials to the science centers. These items are changed on a regular basis to keep things interesting for the students.
The changes that spring brings to the outdoor environment provide wonderful opportunities for science learning activities. Children can take nature walks to observe the new growth. They plant bulbs and flower seeds and care for their developing plants. They chart and graph the flower’s growth each week. Children have chances to explore the earth’s materials: rock, soil, and sand. They dig for soil samples and observe what is in the soil such as earthworms, leaves and rock. Rocks are fun to classify according to size, weight, shape, and color. The children learn about the water cycle as the rainy season arrives in early spring. Wind is also a concept which children experiment with…creating windsocks, pinwheels and classifying items the wind can blow and cannot blow. Watching caterpillars change into butterflies and tadpoles into frogs are ways to learn about metamorphosis.
What can young children do as “scientists”? They can use the scientific method by observing and predicting. They can test predictions or answer questions by using simple experiments and recording their findings. They can acquire basic vocabulary for plants, animals, and humans. They can use language to demonstrate knowledge of physical change and how matter can change form. They can demonstrate the understanding that living things change as they grow, and they can use words related to weather and environmental phenomena. They also learn how to develop environmental responsibility by caring for their environment, sorting materials for recycling, and discussing in simple terms how humans can care for or harm the environment.
Science for early childhood MUST be experiential, with hands-on activities and materials that children can explore. Science should be integrated into other content areas and used in songs, finger plays, and other daily activities and pointed out in everyday life. The classroom teachers make this type of learning a priority when they create their lesson plans!
QUESTIONS FOR THE DIRECTOR
Each month I will focus on a question or two from the parents. Please send your questions to the director at:
QUESTION: What is the difference between direct instruction like in my child’s elementary school and the child-initiated activities that you talk about in free play?
ANSWER: There are many important differences in what type of instruction is developmentally appropriate for young children. In the preschool environment, child-initiated instruction is best.
Direct instruction is dependent on adults’ instruction and often is done by seatwork. If children are exposed to direct instruction in the preschool years, they can intellectually outperform peers usually up to a year after preschool, but then the “playing field” evens out. Children exposed to direct instruction in preschool tend to score lower in inventiveness and have only a short-term success on standardized tests. Their reading disposition can be lost by drills and practice. Children can often feel incompetent if they don’t “get it” early and this can grow into the self-fulfilling prophecy of “feeling stupid”.
Child-initiated instruction makes children active constructors of knowledge. There are many learning centers and play-based activities that encourage exploration and child interaction. Children who are exposed to child-initiated instruction tend to have higher verbal-social participation with their peers and are more ambitious. They exhibit lower levels of test anxiety and less stress since they have learned to use divergent thinking and have a good sense of self-esteem. This type of instruction facilitates creativity and better verbal skills. The advantages of a child-initiated instructive environment are what make this type of teaching developmentally appropriate for young children.