Learning Across the Early Childhood Curriculum: Volume 17


Table of contents

(18 chapters)

The importance of early and developmentally appropriate science education is increasingly recognized. Consequently, creation of common guidelines and standards in early childhood science education has begun (National Research Council (NRC), 2012), and researchers, practitioners, and policy makers have shown great interest in aligning professional development with the new guidelines and standards. There are some important issues that need to be addressed in order to successfully implement guidelines and make progress toward accomplishing standards. Early childhood teachers have expressed a lack of confidence in teaching science and nature (Torquati, Cutler, Gilkerson, & Sarver, in press) and have limited science and pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) (Appleton, 2008). These are critical issues because teachers’ subject-matter knowledge is a robust predictor of student learning outcomes (Enfield & Rogers, 2009; Kennedy, 1998; Wilson, Floden, & Ferrini-Mundy, 2002) and is seen as a critical step toward improving K-12 student achievement (National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century (NCMST), 2000; NRC, 2000). We argue that the same is true of preschool teachers.

This chapter discusses: (a) theories and practices in early childhood science education (i.e., preschool through 3rd grade) in relation to teaching for conceptual change, (b) research on methods of professional development in early childhood science education, and (c) innovative approaches to integrating scientific practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas with early childhood professional development.


The conceptual framework of mathematical modeling (e.g., Lesh & Doerr, 2003) is a vital area in mathematics education research, and its implementation has potential for deeply involving children in integrated and meaningful learning. In mathematical modeling learners are active agents in content-integrated, real-world problem solving. This emphasis on integrating multiple content areas to answer big questions, the pursuit of mathematical modeling, descends from Dewey’s work. We present the definition, principles, and design of modeling practices for readers who may be familiar with early childhood curriculum but less so with using modeling for learning. We explore the application of mathematical modeling to early childhood classrooms and its compatibility with early childhood pedagogies and philosophies. Young children may often be underestimated, assumed to be unable to pose big questions that can be answered through activity, experience, and data; but we discuss how young children can be engaged in problems through mathematical modeling. Finally, as preservice teacher educators, we discuss preparing preservice and in-service teachers for modeling in their classrooms. We offer examples and guidance for early childhood teachers to engage in authentic practice – meeting children where their interests are and creating integrated problem-solving experiences.


Four examples of physical-knowledge activities are described and analyzed on the basis of Piaget’s theory. These are playful activities like Pick-Up Sticks in which children act on objects mentally and physically to produce a desired effect.

The objective of physical-knowledge activities is to develop children’s logico-mathematical knowledge. Therefore, it is not the activities themselves that are important. What is important is the thinking children do while they play because it is by thinking that children construct logico-mathematical knowledge, and logico-mathematical knowledge serves as the framework for children to construct all knowledge.

Data are presented about the achievement in mathematics of two groups of low-SES first graders who came to school without any number concepts. One group was given physical-knowledge activities during the math hour for half a year instead of math lessons. The other group received traditional math instruction throughout the year. The first group did better in mental arithmetic at the end of the school year, demonstrating the importance of a solid logico-mathematical foundation.


The purpose of this chapter is to suggest ways for early childhood teachers to teach science content knowledge, vocabulary, respect, and an appreciation for nature while children engage in meaningful outdoor nature activities. Science concepts such as nature, life cycle, observation, and experimentation can be woven into outdoor activities as children pretend to be nature scientists. Intentional planning provides teachers with the opportunity to integrate science content knowledge and vocabulary learning during the nature study. The careful selection of content vocabulary related to the scientific process and science content knowledge helps children learn new words in meaningful and developmentally appropriate ways. This chapter provides several examples of outdoor nature activities with science content knowledge and vocabulary embedded into each activity.


The White House Initiative: Educate to Innovate (2009) outlines the need for school age children (P-12) to focus more intentionally on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math or STEM. The arts and other developmentally appropriate activities (i.e., blocks, painting, music, etc.) are added to STEM to create STEAM. Specifically, this chapter focuses on Technology, Engineering, and the Arts within the contexts of Science and Mathematics in the early childhood setting. By allowing children the time to explore and create, young children will wonder about the world around them. The chapter concludes with suggestions for early childhood professionals to create environments (physically, temporally, and interpersonally) that encourage and expand the STEM principles.


This study compares parallel philosophies of the work of American educator John Dewey in Art as Experience and the arts infused educational approach of the Reggio Emilia Schools of Italy.

This historical and contemporary comparative, cross-cultural analysis explores educational approaches that incorporate the arts in the process of learning and the use of democratic processes in collaborative learning approaches. Data sources include primary source historical documents, field observations, interviews, and primary source educational materials.

Similarities are identified across cultures and time in the examples analyzed for commonalities including arts creation as central to the processes of learning, democratic processes in collaborative project learning experiences, community involvement as an integral part of the learning processes, and imagination and communication as consistent elements in the experiences of the school. This study provides a historical and contemporary context for the cross-cultural analysis of the use of art in the learning processes as described by American educator John Dewey and the educators in the Reggio Emilia schools of Italy.


The purpose of this chapter is to examine early childhood arts education as a mechanism for achieving Dewey’s goals of active, integrated learning. The approach is to examine Settlement Music School’s Kaleidoscope Preschool Arts Enrichment Program as a model, reviewing the pedagogical approach and research on program outcomes. Findings are that music, dance, and visual arts can be used to teach skills in language, literacy, science, mathematics, and social/cultural learning. Program outcomes indicate particular benefits for children from racial/ethnic minority groups as well as those with developmental delays. Comparison research documents an overall advantage of Kaleidoscope’s arts-integrated pedagogy for vocabulary growth and emotional functioning. The research is limited in that between-child comparisons have lacked random assignment. Yet within-child experiments and between-child quasi-experiments suggest that arts-integrated education offers advantages for the “whole child.” Practical implications include that early childhood professionals may use the arts to facilitate multimodal learning and emotion regulation, as well as bridge the gap that often separates home from school for children from racial and ethnic minority backgrounds. A social implication is that, although the arts are often viewed as supplemental, they can provide mechanisms for the development of skills in core early learning domains. Additionally, arts integration may offer solutions to the challenges faced by learners from diverse backgrounds and with diverse needs. This chapter makes an original and valuable contribution by reviewing both pedagogy and research from Kaleidoscope, providing a compelling model of how Dewey’s goals of active, integrated learning may be realized.


From John Dewey to Herbert Kohl, many theorists and practitioners have explored the use of a developmentalist model as a way to harness the natural instincts and interests of young children to foster meaningful learning. Yet, the concept of meaningful learning in early childhood education today is quickly shifting away from the developmentalist model and its emphasis on authentic learning, toward a social-efficiency model that emphasizes the use of state curriculum standards, standardized assessments, and evidence-based instructional approaches. As the early childhood curriculum pendulum swings, early childhood programs find themselves at risk for becoming more “business like” and less representative of the kind of reflective and risk-taking environments Dewey envisioned leaving educators struggling to use child-centered practices in an era of increased accountability. Considering some of the significant challenges facing early childhood programs and educators, it is critically important for the field of early childhood to begin examining the ways in which the curriculum and instructional procedures being utilized may, or may not, be illustrative of Dewey’s vision of active, dynamic, and integrated early learning experiences and, to what degree. One way to promote meaningful instructional integration is to consider the natural connections that exist across content areas. A logical beginning is to use literacy as an anchor for meaningful learning across the preschool curriculum. In this chapter the authors engage in a review of the literature as it relates to the integration of early literacy and content curriculum and discuss implications for future practice.

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Book series
Advances in Early Education and Day Care
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
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