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Meet our Science Advisor

Photo of Karen Worth

Karen Worth, a leader in the field of early childhood science education, is the co-author of the recently published book, Worms, Shadows, and Whirlpools: Science in the Early Childhood Classroom. She is also one of the authors of The Young Scientist Series, a set of three teacher guides plus trainer manual focused on the study of nature, water, and structures. Ms. Worth is a senior scientist in the Center for Science Education at the Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC) where she helps lead a number of projects on science education reform. She is also a faculty member at Wheelock College in Boston, MA.

What is the best way to introduce science to young children?

photo of children blowing bubbles outdoors

For young children, science is about active, focused exploration of objects, materials, and events around them. We introduce them to science by offering an environment where there are interesting materials to explore. The best "science materials" are simple and open-ended and they invite children to try many different things and ask many different questions. For example, a jar of bubble soap with a bubble wand will provide children with some chance to explore what bubbles do. But if there are different things with which to make bubbles, cups of soapy water with straws, and surfaces on which to make half bubbles, children can explore bubbles in much greater depth and over much longer periods of time.

As young children investigate the science of everyday things, it is important that we support their curiosity and encourage their questions. In other words, we need to help children see themselves as investigators and explorers of the world around them.

What does research tell us about how young children learn science?

One of the most important things we are learning from the research is that young children are powerful thinkers. In many environments we underestimate what young children can do. Given interesting materials at hand and supportive adults around them who encourage and challenge their work, young children develop their thinking, learn new ways to express themselves and new words to use, and form reasoned theories about how things work and even why. These may not be scientifically accurate but they reflect children's careful thought about their limited experience.

How can parents encourage and support their children's interest in science?

photo of 2 girls and father inspecting tree bark

Parents can support their children's interest in science by providing simple materials and the time and space to explore them, and by encouraging, supporting, and participating in their children's explorations. For example, when your child points out a worm on the ground, instead of moving on you can join your child, look closely at the worm together, wonder where it came from and why it is there. You can talk about the worm's interesting colors and the way it moves. Maybe your child will even want to try moving like a worm.

Research suggests that the best way to support children's science learning is to encourage, facilitate, and guide a child's own thinking rather than deliver the facts. Questions such as: "I wonder what would happen if...?" "Did you see...?" " Why do you think...?" can inspire your child to make predictions, try things out, look closely, and draw thoughtful conclusions. And when your child asks you those hard-to-answer "why" questions, it is fine to simply say, "I don't know," or even better "Maybe we can find out together."

How does PEEP and the Big Wide World support children's science learning?

Each episode presents a fun and motivating story about everyday experiences in "the Big Wide World," where science is naturally explored. Our hope is that after watching the show, children and parents will be inspired to turn off the TV and investigate science in the world around them through exploration, observation, play, and conversation. Each animated TV story is followed by a video clip of children exploring a related science topic, for example, shadows, water, or things that roll. These video clips can give parents and kids additional ideas about science explorations they might want to try.