Why preschoolers are like scientists


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    A recent report from the journal Science, has found that when teaching young, preschool-aged children, schools should steer away from a traditional teaching environment and instead allow youngsters to learn through exploration.

             According to an article from the NY Times, "When engaged in what looks like child's play, preschoolers are actually behaving like scientists... forming hypotheses, running experiments, calculating probabilities and deciphering causal relationships about the world." The study, led by psychologist Alison Gopnik from the University of California, Berkeley came to this conclusion through a series of experiments. In one experiment, children were asked to observe an experimenter perform a series of sequences, which either would activate, or fail to activate a toy. Children who observed the experimenter, when given the toy "performed only the actions required to activate it...[and] were able to eliminate the unnecessary actions by observation." Children who were accidentally shown one feature of the toy, for example that it squeaked, and left alone with the toy were more likely to examine the object and discover it's other features while preschoolers who were taught through observation, simply learned to repeat the action, and never explored the toys other features.  The children who were able to explore the object exercised their ability to critically think, and in effect discovered more than they would have otherwise.

          Ironically, "There's a lot of pressure from parents and policy makers to make preschools more and more like schools. This research suggests the opposite."

            Although preschools that allow youngsters to explore, play, and discover, may not help in learning specific facts and skills, they encourage "curiousity and creativity- abilities that are even more important for learning in the long run," says Alison Gopnik in an article by Slate.com. 

            The results of Gopnik's study asks us to question whether or not it is better to allow preschoolers the freedom to explore on their own. We must also consider how different teaching methods at a young age may influence how children learn in their future. Although there haven't been many long-term studies tracking how early-development learning impacts students in the future, it is an interesting question to ask. Does exploration-based learning create better students in the future? Are standardized tests, assigned readings, and lectures, less effective than engaging students by allowing them to explore and question things on their own? Are children who grow up with an exploration-based education more likely to become scientists, inventors, or artists? Do they have higher IQ's? Are they more successful? Should students of all ages be taught in a similar exploration-based manner?

5 Comments

While I think exploration-based learning is very important for preschool-aged children, I think preschooling should consist of an even balance between exploration (letting the children be children) and factual-based learning.

This study explained by James Randerson of guardian.com told how a child's preschool learning can affect them positively later in life. The study followed 3000 children from 800 different schools from age 3 until they were 10. The study found that those who received a proper preschool education were more likely to do better on math tests at age 10. While not a very intriguing result, it still stands for something.

To relate this to your article, the article I read portrayed "proper preschool education" as one with both exploration learning AND factual based learning.It explains how the learning at preschool should extend what the child learns in the home environment, and I would assumed home environment learning is based on exploration. The end of the article even relates this study to why the Chinese government focuses on the importance of preschool learning -- and we know the Chinese preschools are not based on exploration learning.

I think this study stresses the importance of fact-based learning in preschools.

In addition, an article on PBS.org presents a list of three ways preschoolers should be learning compiled by the National Research Council. The first item on the list relates to the exploration-based learning you were mentioning. The second way of learning listed stresses the importance of a "conceptual understanding in mathematics, science and literacy". The explanation explains that this type of conceptual knowledge is necessary in helping preschoolers make sense of the world.

My final thoughts: preschool children should receive an expansive education that invloves the most basic teachings of math, language, and reading -- but should also receive a fair amount of time to play and learn how to interact with one another and their surroundings.

Well, your blog is so meaningful. As far as I am concern it is not only about the science, but something more than science. We should really take a deep thinking into the education on the kids. Anyway, in my opinion, science is the result of the curiosity of the human-being. It is just that we want to know more. Newton wants to know why the apple falls down from the tree, then he finds the gravity. Galileo Galilei wants to explore more in the cosmology, so he invents the telescope. Many of the famous scientist keep on research cuz' they still have a lot of things unknown and they hope they can get that. To the adult, who is always busy on making money, they will not care what other things. However, the preshcoolers are all new-born, they are born to ask. Remember I have a nephew who is just 4 years old. He always asks a lot of questions like, why the sky is blue,can't it be green? That's the creativity.
There is no limit for them to think to create.To answer the question:
"Should students of all ages be taught in a similar exploration-based manner?"
Confucius, the great educator in Ancient China, said that, treat different students with different methods.
That means students should be taught as individual, and different form each other.
Here is an article related to
the Creativity in Young Children
http://www.kidsource.com/kidsource/content2/Creativity_in_kids.html

I believe a childhood education most impacts how people learn in the future. While kids instinctively think creatively, that tends to get drilled out of us as we progress in our academic careers. More importance gets placed on standardized testing and regurgitating information, rather than thinking critically. A study was done that tested how many ways kindergarteners could think to use a paper clip, and they came up with more than 200. As they got older though, those kids were more and more boxed in and only thought of paper clip usage in the traditional sense. Also, kindergarteners who were tested on divergent thinking (thinking creatively) scored 98%, but as they got older, their scores got lower.
So, there's something to say for the importance of child's play. Creativity is essential in schools, not just a nice addition.

Video with study:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U

When I saw the topic of your post, I immediately thought of the Ted talk on the Marshmallow Challenge

When I saw the topic of your post, I immediately thought of the Ted talk on the Marshmallow Challenge

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