This Is Where We’re Slacking in Preschool Education

(Hint: It's not reading.)
ByAnisa Arsenault
Associate Editor
Published
Sep 2017
Young girl writing on chalkboard
Photo: iStock

Your toddler is almost guaranteed to leave preschool with a firm grasp of the ABCs. But a list of planets in the solar system? Not so much. In a first-of-its-kind study, Michigan State University researchers found that early childhood educators say they have low ability and low enjoyment when it comes to teaching science and math.

Science, in particular, is the most neglected subject for preschoolers. While 99 percent of preschool teachers are doing literacy lessons three to four times a week, that number drops to 75 percent in math and 42 percent in science. And this poor early start has long-term consequences: only 38 percent of fourth graders are proficient in science.

With funding from the National Science Foundation, researchers studied 67 Head Start classrooms with students between the ages of 3 and 5—the age range when kids can start engaging in scientific thinking. Lead study author Hope Gerde observed that a lack of training, preparation and a flat-out aversion to science most hindered teachers from focusing on the subject. And pressure from policymakers and administrators to focus on literacy rates didn’t help.

"If we are to improve US children’s science learning, we must provide quality opportunities in teacher education programs and professional development offerings for early childhood teachers to develop knowledge and skills in science,” Gerde says. She explains that currently, only preschool teachers that enter the profession already armed with high knowledge and skills for science take the initiative to bring science materials and lessons to the classroom.

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