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Myths about Science, with an early childhood focus

By Peggy Ashbrook

Posted on 2018-08-17

The National Science Teachers Association website has a section for families titled, “Help Your Child Explore Science.” Here’s my adaptation  of the “Myths about Science” page in that section, giving it an early childhood focus. 

Parent and child looking at a caged snake together.Myths about Science, with an early childhood focus

Myth #1: Science teaching is better left to the teacher.

Your child has been learning from you since the moment he or she was born and began connecting with the world. Parents are children’s first science teachers, providing experiences with textures, smells, tastes, sounds, and sights. Children notice patterns and form beginning understandings of relationships much earlier than they can express them. Recognize that experiences such as bath time or a walk around the building are where science learning can happen in your child’s everyday life and use these opportunities for you and your child to explore and learn together.

Myth #2: Science is difficult.

Because science is a way of seeing the world around us and solving problems, in addition to a body of facts, doing science is for everyone! “Being scientific” is a great family activity. Take a look at previous Early Years blog posts and search for “activity ideas” to find activities that meet the needs of your family.

Myth #3: I’m not a scientist and don’t know enough about science to help my kids.

You do not have to be a scientist to help your children learn science. The majority of parents in this country are not scientists and still help their children learn science. Questions like “What do you notice?” “What’s going to happen?” and “Does it always do that?” are just a few examples of science questions you can explore with your children. A great starting point is to say, “I wonder why…?” followed up with listening to your child and then asking, “Why do you think that?”

Myth #4: I have to know the answers to all of my child’s questions.

It’s okay to say, “I don’t know.” As a parent, you’re probably familiar with the questions “Why?” and “How come?” Children by nature are very inquisitive and interested in the world around them. We wouldn’t be telling the truth if we said we could answer all of their questions. But herein lies the opportunity for them to explore, alone or with you, and have fun simply wondering while you try to discover the answers. Because science is an on-going process, we can expect to learn new information all our lives, some of which will replace older information. I’ve learned to listen when a child tells me, “Actually….” and corrects a statement I held as truth.

Myth #5: Science is all about facts and not very interesting.

Learning words is empowering so young children delight in being able to tell you when they see a butterfly—a step up from “bug” which was a step up from “Dat!”. Older children feel good when they can tell you they see two kinds of bees on the flowers. Share your own experiences and knowledge after listening to your child, and offer (don’t insist) to help them learn more. (Just like my father used to continue reading the chapter book to himself after us kids fell asleep, I look in identification books and in online resources long after my children lose interest.)

Today’s science education emphasis is on inquiry, which means children are encouraged to explore their own natural curiosities about the world around them. Science museums and centers are great places to visit because they allow children to conduct independent investigations on their own … and children have a lot of fun!

Child at an outdoor tub of water, pour water from a container into a PVC pipe.Myth #6: Science requires equipment.

Science is everywhere so keep an inexpensive magnifier handy for looking at boo-boos, ants, and cracker crumbs! The skills of science can be practiced in any environment, including the kitchen and outdoors in the yard or the park. The best way to begin is through conversation. Parents who ask open-ended questions (ones that don’t have just one “right” answer) and who listen patiently to their children’s responses are modeling the most essential skills for young scientists.

2-yr-old child sitting on adult's lap while they read a book together.Myth #7: Science skills should wait for reading skills.

To support children’s learning, parents and teachers should join together to foster early science experiences along with opportunities for developing literacy skills. Most preschoolers’ developmental skills are more suited to participating in science explorations than reading and writing. Learning about science also can motivate kids to read and write as they want to know what a photo caption says, or label their drawings.

To recap:

Parents are children’s first science teachers. 

Doing science is for everyone!

You do not have to be a scientist (or science educator) to help your children learn science.

It’s okay to say, “I don’t know.”

Share your own experiences and knowledge after listening to your child.

Conversation with an attentive adult is more important than equipment but an inexpensive magnifier is a wonderful tool for young children.

Reading together about science topics that interest children shows the power of the written word. Telling others about a science investigation is a reason to draw and write.

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