A Framework for Scientific Inquiry in Preschool

Gurupriya Ramanathan, Salisbury University
Deborah Carter, Boise State University
Julianne Wenner, Clemson University


Preschool children have the capacity to engage in scientific practices and inquiry and develop understanding at a conceptual level. While engaging in inquiry with preschool students, teachers transition from being transmitters of knowledge to facilitators in the educational process as students take on an active role in this learner-centered approach. Although studies have explored how preschool students can engage in inquiry-based science, there is a dearth of research on what teachers need to do to ensure their students are engaging in meaningful, inquiry-based science. Considering the nature of preschool students’ play—curious exploration throughout the day—this study sought to review the literature on preschool scientific inquiry and report on significant themes. The purpose of this paper is to develop a research-based framework for inquiry-based science exploration in preschool settings that cuts across specific interventions, science concepts, or activities to provide teachers with strategies to build and sustain a culture of inquiry that permeates all aspects of their preschool program. To create this framework, 15 studies were analyzed, and five major themes were uncovered regarding how teachers engaged students in inquiry. With students’ curiosity, wonderings, and interests as an essential starting point, the framework outlines these five themes as teacher strategies to support scientific inquiry in preschool. These strategies, rather than implemented in isolation, blend together to assist teachers in transforming play and teacher-initiated or child-initiated activities into rigorous learning and support the creation of a culture of inquiry that is part of their classroom environment.