Children learn scientific thinking earlier than expected. But once again, it is up to the parental home to decide whether or not to encourage this fundamental ability. Primary school seems to reinforce the social differences.
Even six-year-olds show amazing skills in scientific thinking – this is the conclusion of the first study, which examined scientific thinking in childhood from kindergarten to the end of elementary school. Susanne Körber, professor for early education at the Freiburg University of Education, and her colleague Christopher Osterhaus, junior professor for developmental psychology at the University of Vechta, accompanied around 150 children for five years and tested them again and again. The research team primarily asked about the way of approaching certain phenomena.
Basic tasks for experimenting even for kindergarten children
The children are asked about different aspects of scientific thinking. This begins at kindergarten age with very simple basic tasks to experiment with. For example, a story is told about Tom who wants to find out if his dog can jump high. He wants to lure him with a sausage. What does he have to do to find out?
In fact, children as young as 6 understand quite well that they need to test their guess. So hold up the sausage and don’t hold it in front of your nose.
Another example asks how to find out whether plants should be watered with cold water or warm water to make them grow better. Then even elementary school children will actually know that it is good that they take the same type of plant and should water them with cold water on one side and warm water on the other and then see where they grow better. So you know that you shouldn’t take completely different types of plants so that other characteristics are kept constant.
Already in kindergarten big differences
But even at kindergarten age, the team of scientists found major differences in the ability of children to think scientifically. That doesn’t change during elementary school either. That is to say, the elementary school does not really manage to compensate for these differences. The Freiburg professor Körber describes that the differences are strongly related to the educational level of the parents.
Communication between parents influences the development of their children
The primary influence of parents on the development of scientific literacy is how they communicate with their children. However, it is not primarily about talking about science or taking the children to museums or experimental shows as often as possible. In fact, it is also about a certain attitude: we discover an unusual phenomenon and make assumptions about it and consider: what could it be and how could it be tested? And how can I find out if my guess that I have is correct.
Equally important is the understanding that there can be different points of view and that other people do not necessarily think the same as you think. So that you can also take on different perspectives. This is an important prerequisite for thinking scientifically.
But what to do if these skills cannot be adequately promoted at home.
How can this disadvantage be reduced in kindergarten and school?
Apparently, many kindergartens and primary schools are already on the way there, for example by conducting experiments suitable for kindergartens – such as the explosion of the baking powder volcano. But, emphasizes Körber, it is not only important to carry out an experiment and explain the phenomenon, but also to let the children make assumptions about it: why is it that the volcano with the baking powder can now erupt. What led to this? In other words, the general promotion of a scientific attitude among the children.
This could also be supported in elementary school. For example, if there are different opinions in a class that a culture of discussion should be encouraged, even among children who cannot express themselves so eloquently:
The children learn to present their opinions and to find reasons and arguments for them. In addition, they should also look for evidence and clues and then consider whether these fit the original assumptions.
Incidentally, the study did not identify any gender differences. The interest in science and the ability to think scientifically is equally high among girls and boys.