British Science Week: The benefits of science education for early years learners By Orna Herr, Communications Officer (Education) at the British Science Association --------------------------- Each year for British Science Week, activity packs are published for children and young people of all ages to help them take part in the festivities, including under-5s. There is also a nationwide poster competition with a category for children aged 3-5. The theme for this year’s activity packs and competition is ’Growth’! The packs include brilliant, low-resource activities designed to start introducing under-5s to science by showing them how it is all around them, and in themselves. There are activities which ask the children to investigate the different plants in their garden or local park, activities for measuring themselves and their friends, and creating their own greenhouses in rubber gloves! Getting children excited by science and engaged from a young age is vital for their development, and for ensuring they have the aptitudes to excel in their lessons when they start school proper. Early development for future success Early years are an incredibly important, if not the most important, time for brain development. A newborn baby’s brain is around a quarter of the size of an adult’s brain, and by the age of five, the brain has grown to an enormous 90% of it’s full size! This period of growth is the perfect time for children to absorb new information, learn about the world around and begin to develop skills they will apply to academic study and use for the rest of their lives. (Check our blog here on inequality in early years education.) This is especially true of STEM subjects. Speaking to the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years, Dr Sally Moomaw, Professor of Early Childhood Education, said: “STEM disciplines provides a pathway for children to explore a wide range of exciting areas in science, maths, and engineering. Preschool children are naturally interested in science and maths. Almost everything young children do involves exploring their world.” She added that “children who engage in science and maths regularly develop circuits to make learning in these areas faster and easier”. Dr Moomaw is not alone in drawing these conclusions. There have been multiple studies that show the far reaching advantages of engaging very young children with STEM subjects. Strong correlation has been found between early years learning and later successes. This has been attributed to the idea that building a foundation of understanding from a young age is a huge advantage when it comes to learning more complex skills and ideas later on. Transferable skills As well as laying down the groundwork for later academic successes, early years STEM learning can be very advantageous in the here and now. The Community for Advancing Discovery Research in Education have conducted research that found that ‘early learning in mathematics and science’ benefits children in all sorts of ways, not necessarily related to gaining scientific knowledge. STEM learning can promote socio-emotional development and result in fewer challenging behaviours. It ‘supports the development of STEM-related habits of mind’, such as curiosity, critical thinking, collaboration, persistence and problem-solving. These are incredibly important skills for children to acquire, and they feature in Nustem’s STEM Person of the Week, a STEM engagement activity. It aims to breakdown stereotypes around science and scientists, and a link to it can be found on page 9 of the activity packs. Learning science also supports literacy development and is associated with stronger reading skills, the list is endless! British Science Week activity packs This is why we’re so pleased to include an Early Years activity pack as part of our British Science Week resources. As well tips for celebrating the Week, and information about the poster competition, it includes eight exclusive activities for under-5s. ‘Growing with pattern’, which is supported by the National Society for Education and Art Design, introduces children to patterns, how they repeat and grow in all sorts of environments – natural and manmade. This activity requires some paper, a collection of different objects and painting materials. It can get messy, but sometimes that’s the best way to learn! ‘Cardboard building shapes’, supported by Nustem and Northumbria University, is another activity which will get children learning about the science behind hands-on play. They can let their building ambitions and imaginations run wild as they construct towers of any shape and size they like with cardboard shapes. It could inspire the engineers of the future! It really is never too early to start introducing children to new learning opportunities, and science isn’t all about Bunsen burners and test tubes; it can be found in all sorts of activities. Find the Early Years British Science Week 2022 activity pack on britishscienceweek.org and get started!