It turns out preschoolers are studying science more than we may think, though they are not getting enough time to play, two separate studies out of Seattle found. The two findings may not be related, but suggest new ideas for preschool classrooms.
One study showed that 4-year-olds can learn about the concept of weight – a tough scientific idea for them to understand – by watching adults sort toys, according to the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences (I-LABS). Students began to understand weight when researchers turned sorting toys into a game.
Why does this matter? It shows us that preschoolers already are grappling with STEM concepts before they even begin kindergarten, I-LABS reports. And it shows how they are learning about these ideas.
“Here we have an example of children using social observation and imitation to learn about fundamental properties of the physical world,” (Andrew) Meltzoff (co-author of the study) said. “It vividly shows that children not only copy what we literally do, but make deeper inferences about why we’re doing things.” (Check out a great summary of the study on the I-LABS website, “How Do Preschoolers Start Learning Science?”)
This means children may be ready for more STEM work in preschool, which, in turn, could help prepare them for a strong start in kindergarten. This doesn’t mean we need to introduce them to quantum physics, or add rigid science and math curricula. The research suggests 4-year-old students can learn about STEM concepts through games and other age-appropriate activities. It turns out they already are.
A different study from Seattle Children’s Research Institute reports that children in preschool and child care are only getting 48 minutes for active play a day, well below the recommended two hours of play some experts recommend.
“We discovered that on average, children were sedentary for 73 percent of their day,” Dr. Pooja Tandon, the study’s lead investigator, said in a summary of the research. “But what is even more troubling is the fact that kids are not even being offered the opportunities to achieve the recommended amount of active play.”
Washington’s Department of Early Learning (DEL) recently trained child care licensors on guidelines for healthy play. Read more about the guidelines on DEL’s “Active Play Can Promote Development & Learning.”
It sounds like it is time for more science and active play in preschool.