FIRST STEPS: SCIENCE JOURNALING FOR THE VERY YOUNG

Science isn’t just for school-age students. Small children, so naturally curious about their world, are instinctive scientists. Their innate inquisitiveness means they spend a lot of time exploring and investigating. It’s a great time to begin developing children’s abilities to observe, describe, and question – fundamental science skills that they will continue to hone as they progress into more formal education.

Peggy Ashbrook is the author of Science is Simple, the Early Years columnist for NSTA’s Science and Children magazine, and writes the NSTA Blog: The Early Years. She is also a part-time preschool science teacher in Virginia, where she works with very young children from the age of two. Inspired by WNY teacher Ellen Foley, who introduced her to FHL’s field journal for primary students called The Young Observer’s Notebook, Peggy decided to incorporate nature journals into her preschool programming.

First she wrote a note introducing the notebooks to all the families:

“The notebook is like a real scientist’s notebook and is for children and their families to make real notes in, about their simple outdoor observations, made together during a close look at what is outside their door, or further afield. The family’s entries are a way to encourage enjoying the out of doors in an intentional way, rather than being a task to check off or a product to complete and compare."

"I was greatly inspired by a public preschool teacher I met at a National Science Teachers Association conference who spoke about the fun her students’ families had while making simple outdoor observations together and ‘journaling’ about them in their Young Observer’s Notebook. In ‘five or fifty’ minutes spent outside, parents and children and siblings took a close look at something in nature, and wrote their thoughts, discoveries, and wonderings to share with others at school and to refer back to throughout the year. In doing weekly observations, families found joy in their outdoor experiences, and the children practiced their oral language and beginning writing skills and were eager to share their record of their observation with classmates.”

Parents were then encouraged to pick up the notebooks on their way to or from school, and interest was increased once Peggy began reading the entries during circle time. Scroll down to view four journal entries made by Peggy's students and their families.

Peggy has been pleased with the results so far and plans to continue using the notebook, which she calls “a wonderful resource which is useful for so many ‘parts’ of an early childhood curriculum.”

A nature journal can be a great way to reinforce young children’s natural curiosity and build key science process skills, while involving parents in their children’s learning. Do you have stories or examples of student work to share? We’d love to see them and give others the opportunity to learn from your experiences. Email us at inquiries@firsthandlearning.org.