In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Early Childhood Science

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Teachers’ Science Content Knowledge, Confidence, and Competence
  • Role of the Teacher
  • Pedagogical Tools
  • Young Children’s Science Ideas
  • Young Children’s Scientific Thinking Skills
  • Learning Environment
  • Learning in Informal Contexts
  • Early Childhood STEM Education

Education Early Childhood Science
Christine Howitt
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 September 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0226


In this review, early childhood is defined as children from birth to eight years of age. This age range covers before school years, including child care, and the beginning years of formal schooling. These early years of life are considered crucial in shaping a child’s ability to learn and to think creatively. From birth onward, children actively explore their world as they attempt to make sense of what is around them. Due to its capacity to engage and stimulate children, science education in the early years has been recognized for its potential to improve many aspects of their cognitive and social development, including promoting the development of scientific thinking and science skills and encouraging positive attitudes toward science. Recognition of the importance of providing science-related experiences for young children, the acknowledgement of young children’s science competence, the provision of greater voice for young children, and more appropriate methodologies for working with young children that embrace their multiple ways of knowing have seen an increase in research in early childhood science learning since the early 2000s. This bibliography relates to early childhood science in the 21st century and focuses on the teacher, young children, and the environment in relation to the teaching and learning of science. In an attempt to present the wide range of research that has been published in this area, the bibliography covers different contexts, paradigms, and methodologies.

General Overviews

Teaching early childhood science is different to teaching primary and secondary science due to the characteristics of young children. Developmentally appropriate engagement with quality science learning experiences where children interact with others and share ideas in playful situations has been found to enhance young children’s science knowledge, science skill, and attitudes toward science, laying solid foundations for future science learning. Just as young children use their personal experiences as the foundation for learning, young children’s science learning should be experiential. This section introduces some of the major articles that have been used in the literature to support the teaching of science to young children. The overarching themes that come from these studies is the capability of young children and the need for teachers to provide them with appropriate science learning experiences. Three articles relate to general principles for teaching science to young children. Two articles relate to handbooks within the field. The remaining six articles highlight a wide range of specific approaches that demonstrate the diverse research that has occurred in this field. The highly cited article, Eshach and Fried 2005, presents six assertions as to why science should be taught to young children. This is supported by seven early childhood science teaching approaches in Eshach 2006. The National Science Teachers’ Association 2014 presents six key principles to guide the learning of science in young children. These principles take a broader approach than the previous two articles, acknowledging the role of parents and the place of learning in informal contexts. Trundle and Saçkes 2015 provides a comprehensive overview of research into the teaching of science in the early childhood classroom. French and Woodring 2013 discusses the place of authentic learning contexts for learning, drawing on young children’s curiosity and interests. Bulunuz 2013 highlights the importance of teaching science through play with young children. Tytler 2010 emphasizes the place of positive dispositions toward science and scientific ways of thinking for teaching in the primary years. Patrick, et al. 2009 notes how science experiences can motivate young children and help them to develop positive attitudes toward science. Akerson, et al. 2011 demonstrates how the nature of science (NOS) can be taught to children as young as those in kindergarten. Saçkes, et al. 2011 identifies predictors of science achievement, along with limiting factors.

  • Akerson, V. L., G. A. Buck, L. A. Donnelly, V. Nargund-Joshi, and I. S. Weiland. 2011. The importance of teaching and learning nature of science in the early childhood years. Journal of Science and Educational Technology 20:537–549.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10956-011-9312-5E-mail Citation »

    Young American children (K–3) from a variety of contexts (informal, suburban, and urban) were taught about NOS using similar teaching strategies that involved explicit decontextualized and contextualized NOS instruction through the use of children’s literature, debriefings of science lessons, embedded written NOS assessments, and guided inquiries. Results highlighted that children as young as kindergarten are developmentally capable of conceptualizing NOS when it is taught to them.

  • Bulunuz, M. 2013. Teaching science through play in kindergarten. Does integrated play and science instruction build understanding? European Early Childhood Education Research Journal 21.2: 226–249.

    DOI: 10.1080/1350293X.2013.789195E-mail Citation »

    The study investigated the effect of teaching science through playful experiences on fourteen six-year-old Turkish children’s understanding of science concepts. Teaching through play was found to enhance young children’s ability to describe, classify, make predictions and explanations, build cause and effect relationships, solve problems, and recall observations.

  • Eshach, H. 2006. Science literacy in primary schools and pre-schools. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer Verlag.

    DOI: 10.1007/1-4020-4674-XE-mail Citation »

    Eshach presented seven approaches to consider when teaching early childhood science: learning science by engaging in the inquiry process; learning through authentic problems that are of interest to the child; learning through experience and what is familiar to the child; providing scaffolding and assistance; embedding teaching within the social, cultural and physical contexts; exploring from many angles, across multiple subject domains; and using a range of nonverbal teaching materials.

  • Eshach, H., and M. N. Fried. 2005. Should science be taught in early childhood? Journal of Science Education and Technology 14.3: 315–335.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10956-005-7198-9E-mail Citation »

    The authors presented six assertions to support the idea that young children should be exposed to science. These assertions related to young children’s curiosity, developing positive attitudes toward science, developing better understanding of scientific concepts, early use of scientifically informed language, acknowledging young children’s scientific abilities, and developing scientific thinking.

  • French, L. A., and S. D. Woodring. 2013. Science education in the early years. In Handbook of research on the education of young children. 3d ed. Edited by O. N. Saracho, and B. Spodek, 179–196. New York: Routledge.

    E-mail Citation »

    This chapter discusses young children’s interest and curiosity in their everyday world and how to capitalize on this as an authentic context for learning. It describes science opportunities provided to children during preschool and school, materials available to support teachers in science education, ways of assessing young children’s science knowledge, and opportunities for parents to support children’s participation in informal science learning.

  • National Science Teachers’ Association. 2014. NSTA Position Statement: Early Childhood Science Education.

    E-mail Citation »

    The US National Science Teachers’ Association identified six key principles to guide the learning of science in young children. These relate to acknowledging young children’s competence in science, the role of adults in assisting learning, the provision of multiple and varied opportunities to engage in science, science learning occurs in both formal and informal settings, science skills and knowledge develop over time, and the importance of experiential learning.

  • Patrick, H., P. Mantzicopoulos, and A. Samarapungavan. 2009. Motivation for learning science in kindergarten: Is there a gender gap and does integrated inquiry and literacy instruction make a difference. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 46.2: 166–191.

    DOI: 10.1002/tea.20276E-mail Citation »

    The authors researched ethnically and linguistically diverse kindergarten children from low-income families in the United States for their motivation for science after participating in integrated science inquiry and literacy activities relating to life sciences. Sustained and meaningful participation in science activities was found to enhance both girls’ and boys’ beliefs about their competence in science processes and skills, their liking of science, and their views of what learning science encompasses.

  • Saçkes, M., K. C. Trundle, R. L. Bell, and A. A. O’Connell. 2011 The influence of early science experience in kindergarten on children’s immediate and later science achievement: Evidence from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 48.2: 217–235.

    DOI: 10.1002/tea.20395E-mail Citation »

    Children’s prior knowledge, motivation, socioeconomic status, and gender were all statistically significant predictors of their science achievement at the end of kindergarten and end of third grade, but not their science experiences. The limited time (once or twice per week for up to sixty minutes) and nature of science instruction (not utilizing available science teaching materials effectively) could be related to the limited effect of the science experiences.

  • Trundle, K. C., and M. Saçkes. 2015. Research in early childhood science education. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-94-017-9505-0E-mail Citation »

    This book summarizes the importance of teaching science in the early childhood classroom; provides extensive reviews on research into young children’s ideas of earth and space, life, and physical science; and presents key points on effectively teaching science to young children. Chapters include children’s motivation for learning science, children’s development of science-related dispositions and skills, play in science learning, and interventions and assessment. A critical analysis of methodologies is presented.

  • Tytler, R. 2010. Ways forward for primary science education: a review commissioned by the Swedish National Agency for Education. Melbourne, VIC: Deakin Univ.

    E-mail Citation »

    Tytler argued that primary school science should focus on engendering positive dispositions toward science and scientific ways of thinking, developing students’ natural curiosity and disposition to engage in science explorations, introducing students to the work and commitments of science professionals, and preparing them to become active and effective learners of science in their future lives. Specific content knowledge should not be considered a driving force in the curriculum and pedagogy.

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