Science is another area of focus for the 2015-2010 Ready To Learn initiative with the goal of addressing large gaps in both science and academic performance in the early years. “Studies consistently show that Americans lag behind most other developed nations in science proficiency” (NAEP 2011, OECD 2013) and leaders affirm that science education is critical to the nation’s wealth, welfare, and security in the 21st century (President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, 2010).

According to the National Science Teachers Association and the National Research Council, young children have the capacity for science learning and inquiry but many are not exposed to opportunities to learn the science practices that can foster curiosity and lay the foundation for science learning in the classroom and throughout their lives. Furthermore, underserved children have less exposure to and proficiency with science concepts, so new science content focused on these populations is important to help level the playing field for children in need.

New research in early science shows that the earlier children engage in scientific activities, the more they develop positive attitudes toward science. In addition, they have a higher chance of achievement in science and are more likely to pursue STEM-related careers in their future.

What is Science?

Science is the study of the natural world, both living and nonliving, through a process of inquiry that includes observation, prediction, and experimentation leading to understanding/explanation. There are many fields of scientific study including biology, ecology, geology, astronomy, chemistry and physics. Science is interdisciplinary and integral to the world of Engineering and Technology.

Young children, naturally curious and motivated to explore and make sense of the world around them, already exhibit the early inquiry skills that the National Research Council (NRC) calls “central to science learning” (1996). For preschoolers, the process of asking questions, investigating, creating/testing, and reflecting occurs through everyday play and discovery (Brenneman 2010; Hamlin & Wisneski 2012; Christenson & James 2015). Moreover, just as young children’s innate curiosity about natural phenomena helps them to build foundational experiences for later science learning, it also affects the development of other cognitive skills including literacy and mathematics (Worth 2010). No matter the context, young children’s ability to engage in the inquiry process helps them understand the world around them by helping answer questions sparked by their own natural curiosity.

Science and Engineering Practices in service of Scientific Inquiry and Engineering Design

The Science and Engineering practices are at the foundation of science learning and engineering design. By engaging in these practices, children develop the skills, thinking, and language of inquiry. This helps them understand the world that surrounds them by aiding them in finding answers to their questions sparked by natural curiosity or when they try to solve a problem they encounter through the engineering design process. There are eight science and engineering practices:

  1. Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering)
  2. Developing and using models
  3. Planning and carrying out investigations
  4. Analyzing and interpreting data
  5. Using mathematics and computational thinking
  6. Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering)
  7. Engaging in argument from evidence
  8. Obtaining, evaluating and communicating information

Core Ideas – Life Science, Earth & Space Sciences, Physical Science, Engineering & Technology

The PBS KIDS Science Learning Framework aligns with many preschool state standards as well as early elementary standards as established by the Next Generation State Standards (NGSS). The NGSS names four content domains: Physical Science, Life Science, Earth and Space Sciences and Engineering and Technology and identifies Core Ideas within each. These Core Ideas cover a broad range of content:

  1. Physical science is the study of characteristics and properties of energy and nonliving matter. In PreK and Kindergarten, children may distinguish between an object and the material it is made of, and when they progress in 1st and 2nd grades, they might be investigating and classifying human-made and natural objects and materials based on their physical characteristics and their uses.
  2. Life science is the study of the structure, behaviors, and relationships of living organisms. For example, kids in PreK can learn to notice that animals (including humans) use body parts and senses to meet their needs, and that plants grow and change. By Kindergarten, children become aware of the basic needs of living things (food, water and air are needed to grow and survive).
  3. Earth and Space Sciences focuses on understanding the structure of the Earth and its history, climate, meteorology, and the solar system and universe. For the youngest children learning about Earth and Space is grounded in what children can experience with their senses, and their background knowledge and understanding of concepts of Life Science and Physical Science provide an important foundation for deeper understanding of the Earth and Space. As they move into the early elementary years, they become more aware of the impact humans have on the environment and more active in solving problems related to it.
  4. Engineering and Technology is the practice of design to find solutions to particular human problems (engineering) and the human-made tools, systems, and processes created to fulfill human needs and wants (technology). Children are natural engineers. Their early design and building skills can be seen in their play as they use simple tools and a variety of materials to create and build creations including block towers and sand castles. As they learn more about the world and can identify simple problems, they can start engaging in the Engineering Design Process (when a problem or need is defined and working to improve upon the designed solution).

Crosscutting Concepts

The Framework outlines seven Crosscutting Concepts or themes that emerge across all domains of science and as well as in other subject areas such as Math and Literacy. When recognized through authentic learning experiences, they can help children make connections across, and increase understanding of, the core ideas of science and engineering. The concepts most appropriate for young children in the PBS KIDS target age group are: Patterns, Cause and Effect, Structure and Function, and Scale, Proportion, and Quantity. For example, children might look for patterns when exploring concepts within Earth and Space Science. They may notice the cycling of the seasons, or patterns in wave action in the ocean. They may notice that an effect of an earthquake is that it causes cracks in the ground.

New Content for Early Science

Across 2015-2020, the CPB-PBS RTL Initiative will be producing early science content for both new and existing PBS KIDS properties including The Cat In The Hat Knows A Lot About That!, Ready Jet Go!, The Ruff Ruffman Show, and an original Preschool Science Property. For more information about these programs, visit PROGRAMS.



  1. Brenneman, K. (2010, July 29). Planned explorations and spontaneous discoveries: Supporting scientific inquiry in preschool. DLM Summer Institute. Presented in Austin, TX. Retrieved from
  2. Christenson, L. A. & James, J. (2015). Building bridges to understanding in a preschool classroom: A morning in the block center. Young Children, 26-31. Retrieved from
  3. Hamlin, M. & Wisneski, D.B. (2012). Supporting the scientific thinking and inquiry of toddlers and preschoolers through play. Young Children, 67 (3), 82-88. Retrieved from
  4. National Research Council. (1996). National science education standards. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
  5. Worth, K. (2010). Science in early childhood classrooms: Content and process (Collected Papers from the SEED Conference). Retrieved from