Nurturing scientific inquiry in young children by teaching and practicing science process skills.

by Amy Denty

Grades K-2, Grades 3-5


Too often, we see science as a pile of facts and as a result, we often try to teach children in that way. But I think of science as an action -an act of doing. This is especially important for young children because it develops a sense early on, that science is an active process of inquiry, observation, and asking questions to push your thinking forward.

Doing science is a necessarily messy and collaborate endeavor. Children need to be able to practice their craft, talk with one another, and manipulate different tools and objects. They especially need to figure things out themselves, and that can be chaotic at times.

There are some generally recognized science process skills for young children – making observations and predictions, classification, and communication. I like children to use those skills together. For example, each time you make an observation, you can then classify those observations. Then you can figure out a way to communicate how you made that classification.

When you’re trying to nurture science inquiry, it’s important that you don’t have all of the answers as a teacher. It’s more important to know the right questions to ask to guide them along the path of discovery. And when students do science, it builds hooks in their brains and gives them a framework for storing their new knowledge.


What I did well…

In this instructional sequence, I’m effective in my questioning and in letting the participants have time to explore.  I made sure that there were instruments available for making quantitative observations, but I did not insist on them using the measuring instruments. I gave the participants time to reflect on their answers before I called on someone to share an answer.  Sometimes, it is easier to simply tell children the answer you want them to get, but I have found that it is always more valuable if they can struggle a bit and then construct knowledge for themselves.

What I would do more of, better, or differently…

In this instructional sequence, I began my lesson with a children’s story, The Wise Woman and Her Secret. I wish I had spent some time discussing why I believe that using children’s literature is so effective in teaching science to young children. Our children come to us with so many different experiences.  Sometimes, reading a book to a group provides a common experience on which we can build.  Even though I modeled this strategy, if I had built in some background about why it is so important and effective, it would have strengthened the learning for my audience.

I still want to grow in this practice by…

I want to continue to grow this practice by developing some simple inquiry lessons that are realistic and reasonable in today’s classrooms.  Teaching is such a demanding job. It is important to me to be able to support teachers with lesson ideas that use materials that are easily accessible and that don’t cost too much money. Just imagine, if our very young children had opportunities to nurture their natural curiosity about our world; as they got older they could truly make discoveries that could make our world a better place.


About Amy Denty

Amy Monroe Denty is the Director of Curriculum and Instruction for the Wayne County School System in Jesup, Georgia. She enjoys working with all of...

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