Fostering scientific interest at an early age

Kindergartens are full of young scientists who are innately curious about the world around them, with research showing children naturally engage with scientific concepts while they play and explore – meaning early childhood education teachers have an important role to help children investigate and experiment, journalist Jessica Willis writes.

Our world is increasingly dominated by science and technology. In order for children to be prepared for future education and jobs, they must develop science skills and dispositions early.

Strength in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) has also been linked to increased economic prosperity in developed countries.

Interests form early on

The foundations of an interest in science form in the early years and have long term implications for participation and learning.

Research has found many young children develop domain specific interests that persist for months and even years, including interests in science related topics and activities, such as birds, dinosaurs and mathematics.

Researchers studying early childhood interests in general have found:

children as young as three years old have strong and individualised interests focused around activities, objects, themes, or topic domains

gender differences in these interests are already apparent at this early age, and

these interests are associated with attention, recall, play behaviours, temperament, and persistence.

Early childhood education teachers are expertly placed to foster interest in science and broaden engagement with science topics, careers and hobbies.

Science experiments

There are many experiments which introduce STEM concepts that are appropriate for early childhood education.

Ben Carew is part of the University of Queensland’s Science Demonstration Group which regularly perform science experiments in kindergartens, schools and the community.

Carew said it is important to show young children that science is fun and interactive.

“We want young children to think science is an exciting experience, so we try to keep our demonstrations and workshops highly engaging,” Carew said.

“The younger that children are exposed to science and scientific processes, the more they grow their intuition for it – a lot of people have trouble understanding science later in life because they perceive it as unintuitive.

“We find young children to be quite perceptive, and although we tailor demonstrations and explanations to be simpler and more age appropriate, the important thing is engaging them in the scientific process.

“This means we always ask our young audience to describe what they think is happening in the experiment and guess why or how it is happening.

“It’s about trying to make them think, ‘how did we do it?’.”

Research has suggested that there is sometimes a lack of confidence amongst teachers when teaching, developing and extending children’s STEM knowledge.

However, teachers should keep in mind the scientific process is about questioning, investigating, observing and communicating.

“A lot of people can get hung up on scientific facts and neglect the fact that science isn’t about a body of facts but a process, and you can teach this process to anyone – kindergarten children included,” said Carew.

“Young children are naturally scientific because they are so curious; our demonstrations merely guide them through the process of inquiry.”

Another perception that may hinder teachers from conducting experiments is that they need to be big and require cumbersome equipment.

“There are so many simple experiments you can do to demonstrate areas such as physics and chemistry,” he said.

“Some of my favourite experiments use everyday objects you can buy at the supermarket or use recycled materials.

“For example, bouncy balls to demonstrate energy transfer, bubbles to demonstrate chemistry or bi-carb soda and vinegar ‘explosions’ to show chemical reactions.”

Managing risks and safety

Members should always be wary of the risks involved when conducting experiments in kindergartens, including possible allergies to materials (eg, nuts or latex), choking hazards, hygiene practices, the strength and heaviness of objects and any other foreseeable impacts of the activities planned.

Always ensure you adequately assess activities, document the materials, tools and procedures to be used in risk assessments, and discuss in detail with your colleagues the potential risks involved, as well as any incident response plans that may be needed.

Following any organisational guidelines that are in place and having all staff on the same page will go a long way to making sure all risks are minimised and help keep the fun in science.

You can also get information from our Union on your rights and responsibilities for risk management in your roles.


Here are four great resources for implementing STEM in early childhood education including age-appropriate science experiments.
The National Science Week Early Childhood Activities booklet contains inspiring ideas and experiments, including ‘cloning’ plants, sensory gardens, super space science and fireworks in a jar.
The Early Childhood STEM Booklist compiled by Early Learning STEM Australia (ELSA) aims to develop young children’s interest and engagement in STEM through picture books. According to ELSA, picture books can act as hooks to explore as well as learn about new things, and introduce new vocabulary, concepts and ways of thinking.
The Australian Museum allows teachers across Australia to loan a ‘Museum in a Box’ for up to three weeks. There are over 30 different boxes containing real museum specimens, casts, artefacts, dioramas, images, digital resources, books and teacher notes. The museum also provides information to assist teachers completing risk assessments.
IndigiSTEM are resources providing easy to follow activities and accompanying information about Indigenous culture, including bush foods, astronomy and creating bush shelters. Founder and resource developer, Debbie Hoger, is a Dunghutti woman with a passion for STEM who wanted to see preschools and kindergartens drawing on materials which not only engage children in STEM but celebrate Indigenous Australia.