Classics in Science Education

Science Literacy in Primary Schools and Pre-Schools

Authors: Eshach, Haim

Buy this book

eBook $159.00
price for USA (gross)
  • ISBN 978-1-4020-4674-2
  • Digitally watermarked, DRM-free
  • Included format: PDF
  • ebooks can be used on all reading devices
  • Immediate eBook download after purchase
Hardcover $209.00
price for USA
  • ISBN 978-1-4020-4641-4
  • Free shipping for individuals worldwide
  • This title is currently reprinting. You can pre-order your copy now.
About this book

When it comes to science, many of today's children experience narrow and impoverished learning opportunities, which, as professor Judah Schwartz writes in the preface to this book, lead ulitmately to a mere caricature of science. One source of the problem is the wrong—terribly wrong—belief that science is an inappropriate subject for early elementary education and certainly for kindergarten education.

As a curative to this prevalent and unfortunate situation, this well-written and thought-provoking book presents the state-of-the-art in science education for kindergarten and primary schools. It begins with a thorough theoretical discussion on why it is incumbent on the science educator to teach science already at first stages of childhood. It goes on to analyze and synthesize a broad range of educational approaches and themes such as: inquiry-based teaching; learning through authentic problems; scaffolding; situated learning; learning through projects; non-verbal knowledge; and informal learning. The book also presents fresh novel strategies to science teaching such as learning science through designing, building, evaluating and redesigning simple artifacts; and Inquiry Events. Numerous examples illustrating how the theories presented may be brought into practice are provided.


International Journal of Science Education

Vol. 30, No. 13, 17 October 2008, pp. 1837–1840

ISSN 0950-0693 (print)/ISSN 1464-5289 (online)/08/131837–04

DOI: 10.1080/09500690802065874


Science Literacy in Primary Schools and Pre-Schools

Haim Eshach, 2006

Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer

174 pp., €94.95 (hbk)

ISBN 1-4020-4641-3

In this small, very readable book, the author intends to offer a rationale for why and how science should be taught at the earliest grades, and attempts to discuss what it means to learn science by doing science. In Chapter 1 he notes the two main justifications science teachers often offer to support why science should be taught at the primary level: science is about the real world and it promotes thinking. Eshach then contradicts the first justification by submitting the postmodernist view that concepts about the real world are in the mind of the perceiver, and he offers well-documented arguments against the second justification with references from many leading science researchers as to why doing science through inquiry may not promote thinking at all. Instead he suggests six reasons for exposing young children to science:

1. Children naturally enjoy observing and thinking about nature.

2. Exposing students to science develops positive attitudes towards science.

3. Early exposure to scientific phenomena leads to better understanding of the scientific concepts studied later in a formal way.

4. The use of scientifically informed language at an early age influences the eventual development of scientific concepts.

5. Children can understand scientific concepts and reason scientifically.

6. Science is an efficient means for developing scientific thinking. (p. 6)

After offering explanations based on research for these six statements, the author then discusses examples of how language and prior knowledge affect the development of scientific concepts. Some of these learning situations include: heat and temperature, optics, buoyancy, and action/reaction, in which he offers detailed scenarios of how children may actively gain experience through manipulation of interactions.

In Chapter 2 the author details how science should be taught in early childhood, and describes the need not only for factual science content but also science inquiry skills. To elucidate how to promote inquiry skills in young children, the author suggests posing an authentic problem for the child to solve. Problems, he notes, can be of two types: well-defined problems and ill-defined problems. After a brief discussion of these, Eshach explains two types of reasoning he thinks educators use in dealing with problems: rule-based reasoning and case-based reasoning. The author defines each of these and then includes the strengths and weaknesses of each. Once he shares his insights about the different forms of reasoning, he continues with his views of how to promote problem-solving in young children through scaffolding—the Vygotskian notion that learners need support to internalise higher order thinking skills. In contrasting the need for adult support for learning with what often transpires in traditional classrooms (teachers sometimes share abstract knowledge that has little to no connection to the child’s life), the author describes situated learning, which maintains that learning is related to the social situation in which it occurs. He proposes that ‘learning is not the acquisition of knowledge by individuals as much as a process of social participation’ (p. 40). Eshach then argues that social participation is not only student-centred but should also be teacher-centred. Teachers will feel comfortable teaching science only if their own abilities, motivations, and needs are taken into account. These views are unique in that the current international dialogue about science education proposes more emphasis on student-centred instruction. Eshach’s proposition is a departure from the position taken by the National Science Education Standards (National Research Council, 1996, 2000). His position, however, stems from the recognition that K–2 teachers must be knowledgeable and feel confident in teaching science, and often they are not. They often do not possess sufficient science content knowledge to be able to know what questions to ask or how to interpret unexpected responses to questions. So they are not adequately prepared to provide the scaffolding young children need to do science. The author returns to this theme in Chapter 4.

At the end of Chapter 2 the author addresses the non-verbal knowledge that is inherent in all problem-solving activities and that young children can acquire through body knowledge, use of visual representations, conceptual models (traditional concept maps and pictorial concept maps), and analogical reasoning. In Primary Science: Taking the Plunge (Harlen, 2001), many of these same strategies are espoused.

To this point (Chapters 1–2), the author’s discussion is appropriate for early childhood education in that he describes specific suggestions for pedagogy that are not very language dependent. It is in Chapter 3 that the author turns to design and technology, and he includes an engineering model to solve problems with examples that no longer apply to primary-grade children. In the US, ‘primary education’ is considered to be the grades from Kindergarten to Grade 2. The examples given in Chapter 3 are often for third-grade, fourth-grade, fifth-grade, and sixth-grade students as well as middle-school students. These are considered upper elementary grades and not primary in the US. As an early childhood educator, this reviewer has difficulty understanding how primary children could construct some of the devices pictured in the book. While seemingly simple, some of the connections require eye–hand coordination and fine motor skills that young children do not possess.

In the first part of Chapter 4 the author introduces what he calls ‘inquiry events’ (authentic, real world, long-term, concrete problems that are suitable for young children because they deal with simple and familiar things). One example is what to send in a package to a classmate who recently has moved to another country. The author makes the point that this problem would be suitable not only for the students because of its high interest but also for the teacher, who would not need specific science content or extraordinary skills to help the children solve the various problems associated with this inquiry event: the scientific, technological, economic, and geographic issues to be addressed in order to ship a package overseas. Although there is some science involved, most of the problem involves non-scientific concepts. This inquiry event makes for a creative integrated lesson but not an especially insightful science-related one. After introducing ‘inquiry events’, the discussion changes in the second part of Chapter 4 to a report of findings of the author’s study examining changes in elementary teacher beliefs toward science teaching before and after one such inquiry event using the Science Teaching Efficacy Beliefs Instrument as a pre-test and post-test. The third part of Chapter 4 includes a study of two kindergarten teachers who engaged in one such inquiry event. This qualitative study included observations and post-interviews using inductive analysis, searching for patterns, and constructing categories of teachers’ views and pedagogy.

Finally, in Chapter 5, the author discusses formal, non-formal (museum or nature centre), and informal (everyday, spontaneous) learning situations. He cites one study by Kisiel (2005) that investigated the motivations compelling teachers to include student fieldtrips to science museums and other similar out-of-school venues. The author then expands his discussion in this chapter on fieldtrips to describe their affective and cognitive aspects, all the while citing research done on non-formal and informal education. Although scholarly, this discussion misses the point. The author began his book wanting to examine science literacy in primary school and pre-school.

Anyone who has led a fieldtrip to a museum knows that these venues are not appropriate for little ones with short attention spans who need information to be presented at eye level with visual support for language and text. Often the language of docentled tours is beyond that of pre-schoolers. The author’s comments are certainly appropriate for upper elementary school children but hardly for preschool and primary children.

Eventually, at the end of Chapter 5, Eshach does make a more appropriate observation of promoting home–school connection through the use of science activity boxes that are sent home for children and their parents to perform simple investigations. These provide an informal opportunity for parent–child conversation, centred around observations and possibilities.

This book would be valuable for educational researchers because of the many references made to well-regarded science researchers. The author’s two studies that he includes here might be valuable as a model for further study into the notion of inquiry events. Even though the author indicates in the book’s introduction that this book is intended for parents of small children, there are few practical, specific examples for activities that parents might try at home with their little ones, so the book is not recommended for them. Several more engaging texts to encourage ageappropriate hands-on science inquiry activities for young children are the Young Scientist Series by Ingrid Chalufour and Karen Worth (2003, 2004, 2005): Discovering Nature with Young Children, Building Structures with Young Children, and Exploring Water with Young Children. There are also texts published by the National Science Teachers Association for young children entitled A Head Start on Science: Encouraging a Sense of Wonder by William Ritz (2007), as well as Start Young: Early Childhood Science Activities edited by Shannan McNair (2006). These would provide parents with ideas for many hours of informal learning at home that would develop science literacy skills in their young children.

Terry Shanahan, UC Irvine Center for Educational Partnerships, Irvine, California,

USA. Email:

© 2008, Terry Shanahan


Chalufour, I., & Worth, K. (2003). Discovering nature with young children. St Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.

Chalufour, I., & Worth, K. (2004). Building structures with young children. St Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.

Chalufour, I., & Worth, K. (2005). Exploring water with young children. St Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.

Harlen, W. (2001). Primary science: Taking the plunge (2nd ed.). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Kisiel, J. (2005). Understanding elementary teacher motivations for science fieldtrips. Science Education, 89(6), 936–955.

McNair, S. (Ed.).a (2006). Start young: Early childhood science activities. Arlington, VA: NSTA Press.

National Research Council. (1996). National science education standards. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

National Research Council. (2000). Inquiry and the national science education standards: A guide for teaching and learning. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Ritz, W. (Ed.). (2007). A head start on science: Encouraging a sense of wonder. Arlington, VA: NSTA Press.


by Haim Eshach

Springer, Dordrecht, The Netherlands.
xiii+174 pp.
ISBN 1-4020-4641-3 (hardcover)

Science Literacy in Primary Schools and Pre-Schools offers theoretical and practical advice on teaching science to young children. This book should appeal to researchers, policymakers, curriculum designers, college students majoring in education and teachers for designing more effective teaching and learning activities and environments in primary and pre-schools. Dr. Eshach, with his considerable experience in early science education, outlines alternative rationales and a number of approaches to do a good science education by which he means one “that will nurture scientific thinking skills and inculcate in children the desire and passion to know and learn” (p. xii). Nevertheless, he warns that bad science education can sometimes be worse than no science education at all.

Dr. Eshach has a pleasant style, asking different and challenging questions that readers may want to ask when reading the book and answering these questions lucidly. In a sense, this book has an interactive feature. The book, consisting of 5 chapters, begins with a philosophical question, which is also the heading of chapter 1, Should Science be Taught in Early Childhood? Chapter 1 discusses why the typical reasons given by educators are problematic and insufficient for teaching science from early childhood. In this chapter, Dr. Eshach provides an excellent overview of his rationale for why science should be taught in early childhood. He offers six justifications for exposing young children to science as follows:

1. Children naturally enjoy observing and thinking about nature: ‘A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement’ (Carson, 1984, p.42). Because of their innate curiosity, children eagerly embrace all types of science activities. What makes children particularly ready for science is this intrinsic motivation which refers to doing an activity for its inherent satisfaction rather than for some separable consequences. Some may say children just play during these science activities; however according to Vygotsky, play is the leading factor for the development of relationships between objects, meanings, and imaginations. This is one of the most important arguments for including science in pre-schools.

  1. Development of attitudes toward science starts at the early stages of life. Exposing students to science in environments where they can enjoy science develops positive attitudes towards science.

  2. Early exposure to scientific phenomena leads to better understanding of the scientific concepts studied later in a formal way.

  3. Since teaching science involves introducing the learner to the social language of school science (Scott, 1998), the use of scientifically informed language at an early age influences the eventual development of scientific concepts.

  4. Children can understand scientific concepts and reason scientifically: Though there is no consensus on whether or not small children can think scientifically or whether they are mature enough to understand (abstract) scientific concepts, some research indicates that even younger children show the ability to think scientifically and they are able to think about even complex concepts (Metz, 1995).

  5. Science is an efficient means for developing scientific thinking: It is essential to encourage students to develop scientific modes of explanations and modelling (Acher et al. 2007) and to develop the science process skills from the earliest school age.

Chapter 2, How Should Science be Taught in Early Childhood?, presents novel and creative ways of teaching science to young children: inquiry-based teaching, learning through authentic problems; preference of the Dewey’s logical vs. psychological methods, designing teaching drawing on the notion of scaffolding and on the Vygotskian notion of the zone of proximal development (Scott, 1998); situated learning; project-based teaching; and non-verbal knowledge such as the use of visual representations and concept maps. This chapter offers both the theoretical underpinning and practical guidance to create an environment where the child is an active learner (e.g. conducting investigative work, being a scientist for a day). These approaches would help teachers to move away from traditional teacher-dominated activities to student-centered practices.

In Chapter 3, Dr. Eshach argues whether science and design and technology should be integrated in a curriculum. He believes that each approach to science, and design and technology education reviewed in the literature has some limitations. Accordingly, integrating these two subjects can result in ignoring some important aspects of each. Dr. Eshach suggests that “each of the subjects should develop its own activities with regards to the other…science can develop more design and technology activities which are relevant to science lessons and, on the other hand …design and technology might develop scientific activities” (p.83). Drawing upon these ideas, Chapter 3, When Learning Science by Doing Meets Design and Technology, addresses the need to implement the learning by doing approach in science education, and discusses the learning of science via technology, especially through designing, building, evaluating, and redesigning simple artifacts. Some case studies and illustrations are presented in order to clarify this approach. Wolpert (1997, p.21) pointed out that “science is a special way of knowing and investigating and the only way appreciating the process is to do it”. Nevertheless, the current state of science education in primary schools suggests that this is not the case (Harlen, 1997). There are a number of reasons for the insufficient implementation of the learning by doing approach in schools. On the one hand, Schank (1996) claims that educators and psychologists have not fully understood why learning by doing works, and are thus hesitant to insist on it. On the hand, Dr. Eshach argues that teachers’ lack of awareness of the effect of that learning by doing has on children and that teachers’ lack of knowledge in order to implement such approach are the main reasons for this. In this respect, I believe this book offers a clear and helpful frame to change this situation.

Teachers’ role is crucial in promoting science literacy in schools and society. Research on teachers’ knowledge suggests that both teachers’ subject matter knowledge and teachers’ pedagogical knowledge are crucial to good science teaching and student understanding (Shulman, 1987). Unlike previous chapters, which are mainly concentrated on the children’s needs in science teaching, Chapter 4, From the Known to the Complex: The Inquiry Events Method as a Tool for K-2 Science Teaching, focuses not only on the children’s needs while designing teaching, but also on those of teachers. One such approach called the ‘Inquiry Events’ (IE) teaching method is presented in the first part of the chapter. The chapter then moves to a discussion of research which examined educators’ changes in science teaching efficacy beliefs and science teaching outcomes after participating in a four-day workshop on IE. The participants included experienced 48 K-2 teachers, curriculum developers, and teaching-trainers from 20 different developing countries of Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, and the Caribbean Islands. The results indicate that IE is a highly effective teaching method so as to improve science teaching efficacy beliefs of kindergarten and elementary school teachers. The research also suggests that significant changes in teachers’ belief systems toward science teaching can be produced in a short period of time. The last part of the chapter continues the inquiry on the IE approach and discusses implementation and evaluation of this approach in two Israeli’s kindergartens. The results showed that the IE helped two teachers in these schools to advance their both scientific knowledge and scientific reasoning.

Considering many benefits of out-of-school science learning environments such as science centers, museums and zoos, school trips to these places are not often conducted in a manner that could maximize the learning that can result from them, whether it be conceptual or affective (DeWitt & Osborne, 2007). There are some concerns that teachers do not fully understand the role of out-of-school learning and that non-formal science learning environments such as museums themselves need improvements for offering more effective learning environments. The final chapter of the book, Chapter 5, Bridging In-School and Out-of-School Learning: Formal, Non-Formal, and Informal, explores the nature of out-of-school learning and provides both theoretical and practical frameworks to bridge in and out-of-school learning. Dr. Eshach identifies four factors which influences out-ofschool learning each containing cognitive and affective components: personal, physical, social, and instructional. This chapter makes a valuable contribution to the book in the sense that it offers numerous frameworks and examples for teachers and educators to construct bridges so that out-of-school learning is better connected to in-school learning. Research on the impacts of science fieldtrips and the effects of particular instructional practices on students’ learning has resulted in a series of recommendations. As recommended by Dr. Eshach, as well as stated by DeWitt and Osborne (2007), teachers are encouraged to become familiar with the setting before the fieldtrip; to decide the purpose of the fieldtrip; to share the purpose and expectations of the visit with children, to present children the structure of visit; to plan pre-visit activities aligned with curriculum goals; to provide some tasks to be conducted in the fieldtrip, to encourage parents of kindergarten children to join the trip; to plan and conduct post-visit classroom activities to reinforce the fieldtrip experiences. It is also suggested to build a specific science center (what is called Scientific Kindergartens or Enrichment Centers) for small children in different part of a town or city. Such centers, that might even be part of science museums or schools, therefore, could offer a rich learning environment for children, parents, and teachers in the community. Most importantly, teachers’ objectives for fieldtrips and effective instructional strategies used by teachers during the fieldtrip should be the focus of pre-service and in-service teacher-training courses in order to gain more benefits from out-ofschool practices.

The book ends with ‘matome’, means ‘summing up’ in Japanese, in which the main points are summarized and a set of issues and questions which warrant further research attention is propounded. These questions are: why do some science activities work better than others with children? How can we prepare teachers for science education in kindergarten? How widely and in what way do teachers pass on their scientific knowledge and skills to their children? What kind of activities might advance executive control functions in children? What difficulties do children have in understanding scientific knowledge and in acquiring scientific skills? What activities are required to develop meta-cognitive operators in children? How can we analyze whether scientific activities efficiently scaffold scientific knowledge and scientific reasoning? How might educators best invest effort to build science curricula that take into account the points discussed in this book? (p.144-145).

Overall, Dr. Eshach’s book offers a vigorous and reasoned argument to change the way policymakers, researchers, and teachers envision science education in early childhood. However, his research and I shall say some of his radical ideas offer interesting challenges and opportunities for further development and research. The most important requirement for this or any other approaches to science teaching is to develop and implement the teaching activity proposed, and to assess learning outcomes. In summary, justifications, approaches and methods for teaching science in early childhood offered in this book need further evaluation but are promising as effective teaching and learning approaches in primary schools and pre-schools.


Acher, A., Arca, M. & Sanmarti, N. (2007). Modeling as a teaching learning process for understanding materials: A case study in primary education. Science Education, 91, 398-418.

Carson, R. (1984). The Sense of Wonder. New York: Harper& Row Publications.

DeWitt, J. & Osborne, J. (2007). Supporting Teachers on Science-focused School Trips: Towards an integrated framework of theory and practice. International Journal of Science Education, 29(6), 685-710.

Harlen, W. (1997). Primary teachers' understanding in science and its impact in the classroom. Research in Science Education, 27(3), 323-337.

Metz, K. (1995). Reassessment of developmental constraints on children's science instruction. Review of Educational Research, 65(2), 93 - 127.

Schank, R. C. (1996). Goal-Based Scenarios: Case-Based Reasoning Meets Learning by Doing, in Leake, D. (Ed.) Case-Based Reasoning: Experiences, Lessons & Future Directions, pp. 295-347. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. or%5FLeake.html

Scott, P.H. (1998). Teacher talk and meaning making in science classrooms: a Vygotskian analysis and review. Studies in Science Education, 32, 45-80.

Shulman, L. S. (1987). Knowledge and Teaching: Foundations of the new reform. Harvard Educational Review, 57(1), 1-22.

Wolpert, L. (1992). The Unnatural Nature of Science. London: Faber and Faber.

Gültekin Çakmakçi, Ph.D.Hacettepe Üniversitesi, Egitim Fakültesi Ilkögretim Bölümü, 06532 Beytepe / Ankara TURKEY E-mail:

Dr. Çakmakçi is a lecturer in science education. His research interests focus on developing scientific literacy among students/student teachers, and on the design, implementation and evaluation of science teaching.

© 2007 Moment, Eurasia J. Math. Sci. & Tech. Ed., 3(2), 167-169

Table of contents (3 chapters)

  • Should Science Be Taught in Early Childhood?

    Pages 1-28

  • How Should Science Be Taught in Early Childhood?

    Pages 29-54

  • Bridging In-School and Out-Of-School Learning: Formal, Non-Formal, and Informal

    Pages 115-141

Buy this book

eBook $159.00
price for USA (gross)
  • ISBN 978-1-4020-4674-2
  • Digitally watermarked, DRM-free
  • Included format: PDF
  • ebooks can be used on all reading devices
  • Immediate eBook download after purchase
Hardcover $209.00
price for USA
  • ISBN 978-1-4020-4641-4
  • Free shipping for individuals worldwide
  • This title is currently reprinting. You can pre-order your copy now.

Recommended for you


Bibliographic Information

Bibliographic Information
Book Title
Science Literacy in Primary Schools and Pre-Schools
Series Title
Classics in Science Education
Series Volume
Springer Netherlands
Copyright Holder
Springer Science+Business Media B.V.
eBook ISBN
Hardcover ISBN
Series ISSN
Edition Number
Number of Pages
XV, 174