Communicating science to the very young through play

Communicating science to the very young through play

Author: Claire Concannon – Otago Museum, New Zealand

Craig Grant – Otago Museum
Nathalie Wierdak – Otago Museum

Early childhood interactions with science shape young learners’ self-conceptions and aspirations in science, as well as facilitating the development of skills that give long term learning advantages. Interestingly, recent evidence has demonstrated that even very young children are cognitively capable of hypothesis testing and causal inference, key aspects of the scientific method. However, this continues to be an audience that is poorly targeted by science engagement initiatives in New Zealand.

Here we describe the initial phases of the Kia Rapua – Science Playground pilot project aimed at very young learners (4-7 years old). Kia Rapua in Te Reo Māori means ‘Go Explore!’ and reflects the core idea behind the project – to create a playful environment that fosters scientific thinking by giving young children and their caregivers the ideas and materials to exercise their natural curiosity. The portable science playground will travel to four partner preschools around Dunedin.

A review of the literature provided an overview of best practice criteria for designing science activities for the very young, which have been applied to the playground design. Science for this age group is a process of exploration and questioning. Clear scientific concepts underpin the five broad themes of the playground interactives, which have been drawn from the children’s environment and are designed to provide opportunity to be explored from multiple perspectives.

Early childhood educator workshops were developed around the same criteria and run with 15 preschool partner educators. Pre workshop surveys and workshop evaluation indicate that before the workshops participants had a very narrow concept of what science is and little confidence in their ability to develop their own science activities. The workshops received positive feedback and further requests indicate a continued demand. These evaluation results will be discussed as well as the challenges of applying best practice theory to practical playground design.

Presentation type: Visual talk
Theme: Stories
Area of interest: Applying science communication research to practice