• concept: an idea or understanding about something
  • data: what has been observed or experienced
  • evidence: data that support an explanation or conclusion
  • model: to explicitly demonstrate a process, behavior, or task
  • open-ended questions: questions that require critical thinking, invite opinion or explanation, and result in more than a one-word answer
  • phenomenon(a): an object, material, living thing or event that can be directly observed
  • represent: to make a drawing or model of something that has been observed
  • scaffold: a temporary support that helps children learn; it may include prompts, hints, reminders, or models
  • science talk: words that are commonly used by scientists such as compare, predict, measure, sort

Prepare Ahead

Before watching this video, read the text below. When instructed, watch the video from the beginning to end.

Meaningful science exploration can happen when an educator takes the time to carefully and thoughtfully prepare. Being well prepared fosters intentional teaching.

  • Identify the learning goals. Know the underlying science ideas and concepts and what you want children to learn from the experience. For example, learning goals could include having children begin to understand how things grow or begin to understand what all living things need to thrive.
  • Plan the curriculum. Plan activities that connect to the science ideas and concepts you are introducing. Know the steps of the activity and the strategies you will use to support children’s learning.
  • Try the activity yourself. It’s important for educators to see themselves as learners and experience the same science phenomena children will experience later. Dig in and engage in the exploration.
  • Recognize potential challenges. Are there any parts of the activity that will be difficult for some or all children? Plan ways to scaffold instruction during the exploration. For example, when exploring liquids and solids with “goop,” there may be a child who has some discomforts with messy activities. If so, provide that child with a t-shirt or smock.
  • Formulate open-ended questions. Plan what, why, and how questions to ask that will support children’s reasoning and problem-solving. Questions like these have the potential to encourage higher-level thinking.
  • Gather materials and supplies that will be needed for the exploration and think through logistics. For example, if doing an exploration on sounds, choose an appropriate space without extraneous noise or interruptions.
  • Share ideas and work together with other educators. Educators can prepare to lead hands-on science explorations independently, but if the opportunity allows, work with another educator. You’ll have an opportunity to support and learn from each other.

In this video, you’ll see educators prepare to lead children in a seed planting activity. As you watch, look for effective strategies used by the educators in the video and jot down answers to these viewing questions in your Learning Log.

  • What steps do the educators take in order to be fully prepared to lead children in a hands-on exploration?
  • How does trying the activity before using it with children help the educators lead a more effective activity?
  • How does their preparation, in general, lead to a more meaningful exploration for children?


What kinds of things can you do to prepare to lead hands-on exploration?

  • Learn the basic science ideas related to the topic. (For example, a concept such as “What do plants need in order to grow?”)
  • Consider the learning goals. Ask yourself, What can young children learn from this exploration? If children are planting seeds, ask, What should children learn about plants and living things from this activity?
  • Try the activity.
  • Think ahead and recognize children’s potential interests and questions, as well as challenges they might encounter. This will help you to plan meaningful questions and troubleshoot any possible problems.
  • Gather materials for the group and make sure the exploration areas are well-equipped with all of the items children will need.
  • Plan ways to scaffold instruction for children at different levels.
  • Formulate open-ended questions that will draw children’s attention to the science phenomena being explored. For example, ask, What do you notice about how the grass seed looks and feels? rather than, What color is the grass seed? These kinds of questions will encourage children to think more deeply and keep exploring.

Why is it important for you to try the activity first?

  • Participating as a learner allows educators to:
    • Experience what is involved in carrying out each step and to see what actually happens (e.g., does the grass seed grow and how fast?)
    • Anticipate challenges for children.
    • Make modifications to materials.
    • Think of ways to individualize instruction.
    • Formulate open-ended questions to help children think critically, like scientists.
    • Plan ways to model the steps of the activity for the children.

How does being well-prepared lead to a more meaningful experience for children?

  • Being well-prepared fosters intentional teaching which leads to more meaningful learning experiences for children. It allows educators to:
    • Know the basic science concepts to avoid teaching misconceptions and to identify science that is too abstract for young children to understand. For instance, common misconceptions include the ideas that plants get their food from the soil (plants make their own food through photosynthesis) and that heavy things sink (things sink when their density is greater than the density of water).
    • Plan for unexpected occurrences, such as seeds not sprouting or taking longer to sprout than expected.
    • Plan a curriculum with activities that relate to one another, so that children can make connections between explorations from day to day. For example, if you know how fast the grass will grow, you can plan for how and when children will observe and measure their growing plants.


Think about the learning environment at your own program as you answer these reflection questions in your Learning Log.

  • How do you prepare for hands-on exploration?
  • What did you learn that you will put into practice in your own learning environment?
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