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Science education for young children

A model for science education for preschools and elementary schools

This innovation puts the child at the heart of science education using methods from project learning. It provides step-by-step instructions on how to implement a science education module in preschools.

Finland 100


HundrED has selected this innovation to

Finland 100

Web presence






March 2017
I'll never drink cola again!

About the innovation

What is it all about?

Our world keeps changing and evolving so it is important to investigate new things in order to understand them. The labor market of tomorrow will also value curiosity and people who are confident researchers.

This is why we should support this type of confidence, attitude and abilities to investigate new things from early childhood onwards. Both preschools and elementary schools should consciously support the development of curiosity. When children's questions lead to positive feelings and experiences, they will develop a sense of significance and that their thoughts have value.

The main goal of science education for small children is to associate the joy of discovery and success to investigating themes from math and natural sciences. An investigative touch instills a curious attitude in the children and emphasizes the significance of proactivity. It also provides them the tools to observe, measure and classify, not to mention supporting critical thinking and teamwork skills.

The innovation was born out of studies showing that science education should begin already during childhood. Children are interested in many things and are willing to investigate them. Early science education taps into this and focuses on learning investigative skills. This is the first model to put children in the center through playfulness.

Postdoctoral Researcher Jenni Vartiainen set out to answer this need with a doctoral dissertation conducted in cooperation with LUMA Centre Finland. The result is the Vartiainen science education model (Vartiainen, 2016) introduced in this innovation. This model was employed during 2013–2016 in LUMA's clubs for small children and has been used in Hoksaus Science science academy since 2017.

The following five steps describe the science education model. In other words, it is a recipe for a successful science education project incorporating investigative learning methods and a playful attitude. The examples illustrate a science education project that was built on a theme based on the preschoolers' interests.

You can implement the project directly or use the steps as a guide to design your own project.

Impact & scalability

Impact & Scalability


Combining research skills with phenomenon-based learning keeping the child at the heart.


Children learn that their questions are important and they are heard.


Any natural science topic lends itself to practicing research skills.


Implementation steps

Finding an interesting topic
Discovering the interests of the children can go beyond asking questions and talking.

You can ask the parents to make a list of the child's questions or ponderings. You can also tell a story, show a video or pictures to encourage children to open up about their interests.

An example project: Acidic drinks and cavities

The children had repeatedly asked what causes cavities. The instructor took to this theme and started to build a science education project step-by-step around it together with the children.

Setting a goal
Set a clear and attainable goal for the project with the children.

The children should be able to understand the goal and it must pedagogically align with the curriculum.


After the group discussion, the goal was to discover the effects of different drinks on teeth.

Observing the phenomenon
Use various methods to observe the phenomenon.

Find ways to observe the phenomenon through different senses. Utilize different contexts, experiments and action-based learning.


The children observed the acidity of different foods by tasting. They tried lemon and lingonberries as well as very sweet foods.

You can find different acid attack simulations on YouTube, for instance:

Investigate the phenomenon in practice. Divide it in manageable sections so the children can experiment independently.Example:

First, the children learnt about the different causes behind tooth decay from several sources. Then they made a mind map of the subject using pictures and words.

Then the group chose to study the link between acidic drinks and cavities further.

First, the children learnt different methods to measure the acidity of liquids. Then they set up an experiment to discover the effect of different drinks to a dental substitute.

Supplies necessary:

  • Red cabbage juice: Chop the cabbage and pour boiling water over it. Let the mixture sit for about five minutes and pour the purple juice through a strainer.

  • Vinegar

  • Baking soda solution: mix three teaspoons of baking soda into 1 dl of water.

  • A white ice cube tray or a corrugated plastic sheet

  • Pipets

  • Various drinks, such as cola, milk, water, fruit juices

  • Drinking glasses

  • Eggs

First part

Observe how red cabbage juice reacts to acids and bases:

  • With the pipet, fill the ice cube tray or the corrugated plastic sheet placing the baking soda solution and vinegar solution in separate cups.

  • With the pipet, add red cabbage juice on top of the cups and observe.

  • Document the observations in any method desired: drawing, recording or filming, for instance.

Second part

Observe the acidity or alkalinity of different drinks using red cabbage juice:

  • Organize the drinks from the most acidic to the most alkaline

  • Investigate the sugar content of the drinks and use sugar cubes, for example, to illustrate the amount next to the drink.

  • Think of different methods of documentation with the children.

Third part

Next, submerge an egg in each drink. The eggs act as substitutes for teeth in the experiment because teeth and eggshell have roughly the same chemical composition.

  • Observe the eggs in the liquids every day for a week.

  • Observe the color and integrity of the shell. The latter can be noted by scratching the surface with your fingernail.

  • Write down the observations carefully.

Presenting results and reflection
Think of creative ways to present the results.

You should start to practice presenting the results and the process as early as possible. Ensure that the children can introduce the process and results to each other using the documentation produced during the research project, such as photos, drawings or videos.

Different presentation styles can include taking pictures of the different stages and presenting them in order – either digitally or in print copies in their notebooks.


The children made a poster display together with their teachers in their preschool's hallway. The kids presented the project to their guardians as they were picked up or dropped off. This allowed them to practice their presenting skills with different people and share their experiences with the guardians.

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