Learning and Development

EYFS science – Teaching science vocab and linking to KS1 learning

  • EYFS science – Teaching science vocab and linking to KS1 learning

Learn why teaching the language for EYFS science empowers young children, and how to link to KS1 learning, with this advice from senior lecturer, Dr Jamila Hussain…

Equipping children with the correct language

To enable children in Early Year settings to develop early scientific skills, we need to equip them with the correct language. 

Widening their scientific vocabulary will facilitate their EYFS science knowledge and understanding.  This will allow them to make links and draw conclusions from what they observe in their natural environment and the talk they hear from the adults in their world.

If we want our children to become independent thinkers, then we need to provide them with the tools to develop their agency so that they can take an active role in their educational journey. 

By enriching their language skills for the Natural World (EYFS, 2021), the EYFS Statutory Educational Programme states ‘enriching and widening children’s vocabulary will support later reading comprehension’.

We can prepare emerging scientists to become capable individuals who can explore their interests and drive forward their own learning process.  

Case study 

Magnified objects fascinate and entrance children. When you magnify a leaf, you bring a whole new perspective into the field of view.

This vision requires very specific words. When we ask, ‘What do you see?’, what are we expecting to hear? Children may use their existing bank of vocabulary and say it’s ‘amazing’, ‘beautiful’ or ‘shiny’. 

Does this mean, that as educators, we have not provided the repertoire of words to enrich the children’s linguistic range? To develop children’s language for describing what they see, we need to think about EYFS science enrichment ourselves first. 

Creating a scientific literate environment 

To create a scientifically literate atmosphere within a setting, we need to provide and model language usage ourselves in our interactions with children.

We need to plan activities for learning but also for developing a rich language for scientific knowledge. What follows are some examples of how to go about creating a ‘scientific-rich linguistic setting’. 

The eye delivers 80% of the information we need to process the world. It takes precedence over all other senses and we encourage children to use their senses to explore the world around them.

Example 1: describing a daffodil  

Daffodils are yellow flowers. They symbolise the arrival of spring with their intense and vibrant colours and distinct shape. 

The flower has a central trumpet-shaped tubular structure. It’s also like a bell shape, seen in bluebells. However, the ‘bell’ shape in daffodils points upwards and outwards. This is in contrast to bluebells, where the flower bells hang downwards. 

From the centre, six petals extend. The petals look like curved triangles. The middle cylindrical part ends in a frilly, crinkly edge that looks like crumpled tissue paper.

The shades of yellow range from deep, full yellow to tinges of orange. These lighten to white at the tips of the petals. 

The delicate, long, thin stem not only supports the flower head but carries water from the bottom to the flower, travelling upwards to the sky. This is against the force of gravity, which pulls down.

All flowers have a distinct fragrance, and different textured petals too. For example, rose petals are soft to touch, just like touching a feather. 

Example 2: describing moss on a stone 

A deep green moss wraps around the large, shiny stone. It looks drenched with moistness. It might feel spongy to the touch. I bet if you pressed and patted it down, it would jump back up again to its original shape. It’s like a living coat for the stone.

There are tiny droplets of rain on the moss that glide off the moss. If you look carefully, it looks like an entire forest has shrunk into a very small space. 

Example 3: blossom on trees 

There is spring blossom on the trees. The buds burst like popcorn into delicate, pretty flowers. Some are white, but my favourite are pink ones. They look like the soft, sugary, pastel shades of marshmallows.

The flowers have colourful petals to attract the bees and other insects like butterflies. When the wind blows, some petals fall to the ground, like a shower of flowers. The fallen petals stay soft for a while but die quickly and lose their colour. 

Blossoms have sweet scents and fill the air with their fragrance. The wind rustling through the branches feels soft and gentle on my face.

Once pollinated, the flowers may turn into fruit. I love to eat crunchy apples, soft pears and juicy cherries. The flowers and fruit are part of a plant’s life cycle. Plants are living things, and so is the fruit.

When the fruit dies, it decays and breaks down. You can use it in compost. 

Why is language important for EYFS science? 

If we model desired language in our daily dialogue, we are gifting children a wealth of words to unlock the wonderful world around them.

We are facilitating their thinking and processing skills by dripping words like rainfall so they can become skilful at using scientific language to describe what they see. 

Scientific language does not have to be non-descriptive. In fact, quite the opposite is true. A colourful and creative vocabulary allows us to fully describe what we observe in our natural world. Let’s colour the EYFS science language we use in our settings!

How to link EYFS science to KS1 learning

In the EYFS, the statutory guidance informs us that children should explore the natural world around them, observing and drawing living things.

Once familiar with their immediate environment, we can then introduce knowledge about new places. This new learning can take place through first hand experiences. For example, you might learn about local pond life then move on to learning about a local river or lake.

New learning can take the form of text, and both the EYFS framework and KS1 curriculum actively encourage this. This may take any form you wish, from traditional books to digital technologies. For example, you might explore a woodland setting with The Gruffalo (Julia Donaldson) or the beach with Lucy and Tom at the Seaside (Shirley Hughes).

This transition from local to distant environments or habitats makes sense. So far so, good. Children learn about familiar everyday habitats. Once they’ve embedded and consolidated this learning, you then introduce learning about more distant, further away environments.

Encourage children to work scientifically by asking them to collect rocks/pebbles/shells and sort them into groups determined by similarities or differences. This early classification exposure teaches children to look for patterns in nature.

This supports learning in KS1 when pupils will need to group and classify plants and animals according to their physical characteristics. 

Living things

You can then explore additional contrasting environments such as the Arctic or ‘under the sea’ through books such as The Snail and The Whale (Julia Donaldson).

This EYFS science knowledge and understanding of local and global environments leads agreeably into KS1 science coverage of ‘living things in their environments’. Children can look at a beach scene or a desert video and recognise that these settings are very different to their local habitats. 

As Early Years educators we teach children about plants in our locality and the need to respect and care for their natural world. In Year 1, we introduce children to wild and garden plants and their structure. We also cover naming and classifying animals, building on the schemas children learnt in their EY settings.

In Year 2, we extend this science learning to thinking about the suitability of living things in their surroundings and interdependence (the concept of cause and consequence).

The schemas of lifecycles, eg ducks and butterflies (learning about the concepts of continuity and change) in Early Years leads to the topic of animals having offspring that grow into adults. This lays the schema for inheritance and evolution in KS2.

Children start to understand that change happens to many things, including them as they grow and start to learn more about their world.

Noticing changes

In terms of scientific learning, we ask very young children to notice changes. For example, observing plants growing leads suitably into KS1 learning about what plants need to survive, and why. For instance, it is too cold for most plants to grow in the winter. So far, all this learning covers the field of biology.

We then introduce children to chemistry when teaching important scientific processes, such as the reversible reactions of melting or freezing (the concept of cause and consequence).

In EYFS science, we introduce children to the field of ‘Earth science’. Practitioners teach facts such as the Earth being tilted and spinning on its axis. This leads to day and night, the seasons and our climate.

We also introduce children in Early Years to disciplinary methods such as observation. For example, they may use magnifying glasses when hunting for insects. This use of equipment and data gathering leads into working scientifically in KS1.

Further data analysis may include measuring rainfall over the seasons. Over time (during KS1), children will learn that the amount of rainfall tends to be similar over the same months of the year.

Progression of understanding

This progression of understanding may begin with observing changes in weather over the course of a day and over the course of seasons. These methods of observation and analysis enable children not only to observe patterns over time but to represent and interpret this data.

This upskills them as young scientists – they learn to draw conclusions from what they see and observe. Children may then start to develop their own conclusions from what they observe in their world.

For example, when they see a rainbow in the sky they may notice that there is rain and sunshine at the same time. If they ask you about this, this allows you to start to develop children’s understanding of light being made of all the colours of the rainbow. We only see the individual colours when the light passes through the individual water droplets.

Once children learn that clouds and fog are made up of tiny droplets or frozen crystals of water they can investigate why water in an open container disappears, but not water in a closed container. 

Making connections

Children’s knowledge and understanding of the world around them continues to grow, and they add new facts to their schemas. When children observe and notice patterns, they make connections and grow in their learning.

There are many ways children can make sense of the world. These include:

● using their senses to make sense of their world (the concepts of similarity and difference)

● observing passively (watching a sunset)

● actively investigating

Examples of active learning might include:

● collecting shells

● digging into soil after a rainfall

● investigating the pigments in plants through chromatography

● holding a warm cup on a cold day to learn about heat transference

● feeling the air around them on a windy day

If we structure and sequence EYFS science learning, children can grow in their acquisition of knowledge. They learn to ‘know’ things.

They can use their skills to develop connections and embed their understanding across a range of scientific concepts.

Cohesive order

When we cohesively order EYFS science topics, children can build on prior knowledge. By revisiting topics throughout the Early Years, we can ensure that children fully understand concepts, whether they’re simple or complex.

For example, children might develop a growing sense of responsibility and understand the need to respect and care for the natural environment and all living things. They might also develop their knowledge of similarity and difference and understand the difference between plants and animals through observation, for example.

Scientific learning in Early Years is inextricably linked to scientific learning in the national curriculum. The aim of the ‘natural world’ ELG is to develop a sense of awe and wonder in children about the world they live in.

Through careful and meticulous observations, children can develop connections and grow in their schemas of knowledge.

We can help develop children’s knowledge and scientific skills by making connections between the scientific concepts we teach in Early Years and those in the national curriculum. 

More EYFS science resources

Birth to 5 Matters: Non-statutory guidance for the EYFS

Research review series: science (Ofsted)

Piaget, Vygotsky & Beyond: Future Issues for Developmental Psychology and Education by Smith, Dockrell & Tomlinson

Dr Jamila Hussain is a senior lecturer at Bishop Grosseteste University in Lincoln, a member of The Brilliant Club and an advocate for promoting opportunities for pupils from disadvantaged or minority backgrounds. She has worked as an EY teacher and as a SENCo. She has a doctorate in science and carries out active research with families in the community to promote a love of science from an early age.