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The Scientific Method

Young children are naturally curious about the world around them, which makes early childhood the perfect time to introduce the scientific method. Structured hands-on activities that are both age appropriate and engaging allow children to make observations, form hypotheses and then test them out and analyze their results.  As our young scientists explore we can facilitate by asking guided questions and encouraging the use of scientific vocabulary; being careful to give them plenty of room to explore on their own. 

Often young children become fixated on a topic like dinosaurs, bugs or trains. Their interests are the perfect starting point for developing a science unit. These activities can also be chosen to compliment a unit of study or teach a particular concept. Remember, the goal is not to present your little scientists with facts about a topic, but to provide them with opportunities to answer the questions they have about the topic. Let’s look at the scientific method in action!

1. Question

The first step of the scientific process is, to formulate questions. This can be done by creating an, “I Wonder…” poster. Write all the questions your child has about the topic on the poster. Then, search for an age appropriate experiment for each question. The experiments you choose should allow them to discover answers to the questions listed on their “I Wonder…” poster. If you have decided on an insect unit, then one of your experiments might answer the question, “Do all bugs have six legs?”

2. Hypothesis

This is where your scientist makes an educated guess at their question’s answer. Do they think all bugs have six legs? Make sure to ask your child to support their hypothesis and record their answers. They may reason that since all people have two legs, all insects must have six legs. Ask guided questions as needed to help them formulate their thoughts!

3. Experiment

This is the fun part! Guide your child as they conduct their experiment. To find out if all insects have six legs you may take your child on an insect hunt in your backyard or a local park and let them observe the number of legs on each insect they find.

4. Data

Help your child record their data while they conduct their experiment. They may take pictures of each bug they find or fill in a tally chart to record how many bugs they find with six legs and how many bugs they find without.

5. Analyze

Your child may need a little help learning how to analyze their data. Ask them what conclusion they can draw from the fact that they have a stack of twenty pictures of insects with six legs and none without. It’s tempting to answer the questions for them, but this step is where scientific thinking is really developed, so it’s important for them to arrive at a conclusion themselves.  Often as your child analyze their data other questions will come up. For example, they may realize spiders can’t be insects because they have eight legs and wonder what they are. Make sure to add any new questions to the “I Wonder…” chart to explore later!

6. Report

The report is the final step of the scientific method. This is where your child will show the results of their experiment and indicate whether or not their hypothesis was correct. They may write, draw or fill in a graph to show their results. If your child is not yet writing let them dictate the result of their experiment as you write it under their picture. It is important to explain that it is ok if their hypothesis was incorrect and that scientists learn just as much from incorrect hypothesis as they do correct ones.

To wrap things up congratulate your child on their wonderful scientific thinking! Happy experimenting!