Promoting A National Dialogue about Early Science Learning

Cindy Hoisington develops innovative preschool curricula, and instructs and mentors early childhood teachers in language, literacy, and science education. She has served as the science advisor for the Emmy-winning educational television series Curious George, for which she received recognition from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. She has also developed online science materials for Peep and the Big Wide World and The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot about That! In this post, part of a series by our early learning specialists, Cindy shares her work as the co-facilitator of the National Association for the Education of Young Children's (NAEYC) Early Childhood Science Interest Forum.

The science education community is becoming increasingly responsive to research that underscores the key role that preschool science learning plays in K–20 science thinking, learning, and achievement. For the first time, early childhood is entering the mainstream of science education. Questions that are central to EDC’s early childhood science professional development—such as “What constitutes quality in preschool science teaching and learning?” and “How can we achieve high-quality preschool science teaching and learning?—are gaining greater prominence in the fields of both early childhood and science education.

As a co-facilitator of the National Association for the Education of Young Children's (NAEYC) Early Childhood Science Interest Forum (ECSIF), I am thrilled to find myself in a group that stands at the nexus of this national conversation. The ECIF was conceived during a 2010 STEM in Early Education and Development (SEED) conference hosted by the University of Northern Iowa. EDC colleagues and I attended that conference (read the paper I presented) and, in 2011, we joined with other educators, researchers, policy makers, professional developers, and curriculum developers who attended the conference to launch the ECSIF. With the ECSIF, we sought to continue the vigorous debate—about science in early childhood, its role in a child-centered curriculum, implications for teachers, classrooms, and programs—that the conference provoked and to extend the conversation to include all early childhood educators, researchers, and advocates who are passionate about science.

Today, the ECSIF is working to achieve six goals:

  • Build understanding of the nature of quality science teaching and learning
  • Promote public understanding of the importance of inquiry-based science curriculum and appropriate content and deepen awareness of what young children are capable of doing and learning
  • Provide opportunities for the exchange of effective strategies and quality materials for teaching science
  • Identify resources for Association for the Education of Young Children (AEYC) Affiliates when they want to plan science-related professional development or other science-related events
  • Support efforts to expand professional development opportunities for teachers and administrators
  • Establish and maintain a collaborative relationship with other professional organizations with similar goals, such as the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA)

In 2013, in close collaboration with NSTA, the ECSIF moved steadily in pursuit of these goals. First, we initiated an effort to develop a position statement in early childhood science—written by a committee including several ECSIF members—that the NSTA board has now approved and endorsed. The position statement synthesizes data on children’s cognitive capacity, how children learn science concepts, and effective science teaching to identify core principles that can guide and support quality science education in the early years. It also includes professional development and policy recommendations to promote high-quality early science learning.

Second, we facilitated an agreement between NAEYC and NSTA to present at each other’s conferences—an important way to solidly seat early childhood in the science education world and science in the early childhood world. In 2013, ECSIF members presented at the NAEYC conference on the topic of Defining Early Childhood Science Teaching and Learning and introduced the NSTA position statement, as well as the most recent draft of the new Massachusetts early childhood STE (science, technology, and engineering) standards. At this conference, we drew in over 30 educators and researchers who were eager to hear about the ECSIF and its initiatives, discuss illustrative early childhood science videos, and get updated information on the early childhood science policy scene.

Looking ahead, one of our 2014 goals is to create a listserv of the ECSIF membership to extend our reach into the early childhood science community, keep track of our growing membership, and streamline our systems of communication. Most importantly, it will foster communication among all ECSIF members, even those who cannot access the NAEYC interest forum page or social media sites. A second goal is to work closely with NAEYC and ask them to officially endorse the NSTA position statement or collaboratively develop their own position statement focused on early childhood science teaching and learning.

It is an exciting time to be an early childhood science educator, researcher, and/or advocate. I am proud to be a member of a group of such distinguished and committed colleagues who are working hard to promote a national dialogue about the importance of quality early childhood science education. I invite you to join us! If you are an NAEYC member, join the ECSIF discussion on the NAEYC interest forum. If you are not an NAEYC member, please visit the ECSIF’s blog, check out the ECSIF’s Facebook page, view the ECSIF’s Pinterest boards, and follow the ECSIF on Twitter