Spontaneous Science

By Tara Israelson – Nīkau Head Teacher – Preschool

I was once asked how we, as Montessori preschool teachers, incorporate science into our curriculum.  I had to think for a moment to figure out how to answer, because it’s not a simple answer.

You see, in our preschool classrooms we don’t have many activities with the sole purpose of investigating a scientific concept. Instead our Montessori curriculum invites the child to engage in what we like to think of as “spontaneous” science – the sensorial experiences of different concepts in real time, directed by the children.  Preschool children explore the world with their senses and when they make scientific discoveries, sometimes by accident, we, as teachers, have the privilege of watching the wonder unfold without having to always explain the science behind what they have experienced.

A 3-year old child, who mixes paint at the easel, will discover by accident one day, that blue and yellow make green and the next time they choose to paint they may put blue and yellow together again to see if green appears.  A child building the Pink Tower may attempt to build the tower upside down and will watch as it topples due to insufficient support.  An attempt may be made again, with a different block at the bottom and the tower may stand, or not.  This is how the preschool aged child develops their own working theories about the world and we want to allow these theories to form without a lot of “spoilers”.  So, rather than tell the child that blue and yellow make green and then invite them to prove our theory, we wait for the child to figure it out and tell us.

Having said that, kaiārahi (teachers), do not ignore the science happening around them!  We support children by naming their experiences; a surface can be “rough” or “smooth”. We also ask questions when we can see a child needs help; we might ask, “Where do insects like to hide?” when a child is struggling to find them.   Children make sense of the world through their discoveries and their ability to share them with others.  This idea is so powerful for young children, that they can work together alongside a friend or a teacher and solve a problem, or hypothesize and then experiment to determine whether their hypothesis was correct.  We listen and we stand back as they explore and experiment and we often guide them with questions, as they try to make sense of something new they have experienced.

As children grow older, they refine this technique further, but for our preschool tamariki it is so important to be given the space to truly explore, try something new, and share their findings with their community.

Through their daily work and play in our Montessori classrooms, these children are laying the foundation for future scientific study.  Not only are they developing working theories about the world that they will further investigate in primary and secondary school, or even in their adult careers, they are also building confidence in themselves as explorers, scientists, discoverers and pioneers.  Their minds know no limits, their hands are their tools, the world is their laboratory.