Effective Practice Guides

Scientific Inquiry: Do

Try the following practices with preschool-aged children. Find out how home visitors can put these practices to work with families.


  • Facilitate and scaffold children’s observation skills. Introduce the observation process using simple, familiar objects and encourage children to hold and touch the objects and use all their senses to note specific details. Invite children to describe their observations and ask questions to guide their observations (e.g., “What do you notice about…?” What does it look like, feel like, sound like, smell like?”).
  • Go on a nature walk or visit another part of your setting (e.g., front office in a center, kitchen in family child care home, gym in a school-based program). Give children paper and a writing tool so they can draw what they see and hear. Encourage them to explore the environment using their senses. When you and the children get back, create a group list of sights, sounds, smells, and more.
  • Use science vocabulary, like observepredictquestioninvestigatecompare, and classify, when describing objects, materials, organisms, and events in your setting. Encourage and scaffold children in using these words as they explore and discover.
  • Organize your environment so that clean-up time turns into a sorting experience. Provide guidance about where things should go (e.g., “The rectangle blocks go together on this shelf.” “All the crayons go together in one box, and all the markers in another box.”).
  • Provide a variety of objects to sort and engage children in conversations about sorting and classifying. Ask open-ended questions, help children label the groups and verbalize their criteria for sorting, and encourage them to come up with their own criteria for sorting.
  • Include science materials (e.g., building sets, pulleys, wheels, levers, ramps, tubes, funnels, sifters, magnets, magnifying glasses, balance scales, seeds, soil, rocks, shells) in different parts of your environment (e.g., dramatic play, blocks, manipulatives, sensory table, art, music/movement, books/writing, science/discovery, outdoors). Choose materials that are open-ended and encourage children to explore.
  • Include books with science-related content. For example, nonfiction informational books about things and events in the world, such as insects, animals, seeds, the seasons, fruits and vegetables, or the human body, provide resources for children’s investigations through pictures and descriptions, and enrich children’s knowledge about their world. Numerous story books, such as The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle or The Happy Day by Ruth Krauss, have science connections and can be starting points for discussing concepts such as growth or seasonal and weather changes.

Home Visitors

Home visitors can support parents in identifying, adapting, and trying the practices above during home visits and group socializations. Here are more ideas:

  • Talk with parents about their cultural beliefs and practices related to nature and the way children demonstrate questioning and exploring behaviors.5 For example, some parents encourage their child to actively explore and ask questions. Other parents encourage their child to be silent observers and listen rather than question. This knowledge will help you co-plan experiences and activities that are culturally appropriate and respectful.
  • Assure parents that they do not have to be scientists or know all the answers to questions to engage in everyday conversations about science with their child. Explain that they can support their child’s science learning by paying attention to the child’s questions and observations, commenting on the child’s actions, offering bits and pieces of information that provide some answers to their child’s questions, and suggesting ways their child can find more information and answers. Suggest to parents that they can also help find answers together with their child. Encourage parents to engage in these conversations in the language(s) they know best.
  • Talk with parents about encouraging their child to use words, sign language, drawings, or objects to show his or her thinking. Model the strategy as needed. Comment when you hear parents using this strategy with their child and note the child’s response.6

1National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning (NCQTL), “Tools for Teachers-Science Knowledge and Skills: Science Vocabulary” (Washington, DC: HHS, ACF, OHS, NCQTL, 2014), https://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/hslc/tta-system/teaching/docs/ScienceDo_Tools-Language.pdf.

2California Department of Education, California Preschool Curriculum Framework Volume 1 (Sacramento, CA: California Department of Education, 2010), 261–262, Algebra and Functions, Classification, http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/cd/re/documents/psframeworkkvol1.pdf [PDF, 8.8MB].

3National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning (NCQTL), “Tools for Teachers-Science Knowledge and Skills: Materials to Support Science Learning” (Washington, DC: HHS, ACF, OHS, NCQTL, 2014), https://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/hslc/tta-system/teaching/docs/ScienceDo_Tools-Materials.pdf.

4California Department of Education, California Preschool Curriculum Framework Volume 3 (Sacramento, CA: California Department of Education, 2013), 145, 156, Science, http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/cd/re/documents/preschoolframeworkvol3.pdf [PDF, 7.6MB].

5California Department of Education, California Preschool Curriculum Framework Volume 3 (Sacramento, CA: California Department of Education, 2013), 174–175, Science/Scientific Inquiry, http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/cd/re/documents/preschoolframeworkvol3.pdf [PDF, 7.6MB].

6National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning (NCQTL), “Tips for Families-Fostering Children’s Thinking Skills: Solving Problems—Together” (Washington, DC: HHS, ACF, OHS, NCQTL, 2013), https://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/no-search/iss/engaging-interactions/fostering-thinking-family-tips.pdf.

Topic:School Readiness

Resource Type: Article

Last Updated: December 3, 2019