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California State University, Long Beach
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Sense of Wonder: Science for Young Children

"A child's world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. [I wish that] each child in the world be [given] a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life..."

Rachel Carson, 1956/1998
The Sense of Wonder

Central to our understanding of young children is the idea that a sense of wonder is innate; children are naturally awe-struck by and curious about the natural world. Further, the scientific exploration of this amazing natural world is also natural for young learners. We believe a sense of wonder is part of all children's experience with the natural world; children are intrinsically motivated to explore this world. Therefore, denying children access to science education is reprehensible. It is important that all children have access to culturally relevant science experiences that are of value in learners' everyday worlds. Formal science education settings must tap into this natural interest in science by providing authentic materials, allowing a degree of student autonomy, and celebrating student success. Additionally, science education for young learners must utilize play and emphasize free exploration as a means for learning; provide opportunities to interact with peers, teaching and learning from each other; recognize that trial and error, cause and effect are natural parts of the scientific learning experience; and the importance of process over right and wrong answers.

"If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder...he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in."

Rachel Carson, 1956/1998
The Sense of Wonder

Teachers charged with facilitating science education of young learners indeed face a great challenge. Teachers must serve more as facilitators of learning, as opposed to "tellers" of information. Teachers must abandon the traditional view of teacher as disseminator of information and adopt roles as facilitators of learning. Consistent with this, a primary role of the early childhood science teacher is to provide an appropriate learning environment and opportunities for children to explore, represent, and share their discoveries. Teachers need to model excitement and enthusiasm when involved in science processes and when planning and anticipating discoveries. Throughout the design of learning experiences teachers need to recognize that the science processes children engage in are more important than learning science facts and that science processes can be highlighted at all times and in all parts of the classroom and outdoors, not just during "science time" and/or at the "science center." As children engage in science experiences, adults should observe children's actions and listen to children's conversations so that they can follow children's leads; child-initiated learning is of great importance and should be supported. Additionally, effective early childhood teachers must be effective parent educators and involve families in their children's science activities.

We firmly believe that children enrolled in the types of early childhood programs described above, where active learning and student exploration are central, where teachers emphasize science process and student-initiated learning, and where families are involved in children's science education, are more likely to succeed in school, and in life, than children who attend more teacher-directed programs.