Research Topic

The Emergence and Development of Scientific Thinking during the Early Years: Basic Processes and Supportive Contexts

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About this Research Topic

The scientific enterprise is characterized by a set of practices that center around the goals of understanding and explaining the world around us. Engaging in scientific thinking involves wondering, formulating questions, utilizing evidence, drawing inferences, and constructing and revising explanations. On ...

The scientific enterprise is characterized by a set of practices that center around the goals of understanding and explaining the world around us. Engaging in scientific thinking involves wondering, formulating questions, utilizing evidence, drawing inferences, and constructing and revising explanations. On one hand, these processes can be considered complex and technical – requiring cultivation through a deliberate and sustained program of STEM education. On the other hand, as suggested by Jean Piaget, even very young children can be viewed as intuitive scientists—engaging naturally in many of these same practices. This Research Topic aims to shed new light on the development of mature scientific thinking by bringing together cutting-edge research on the basic processes in early childhood that form its foundation and the informal contexts that support its development.

First, we explore the foundational processes in the repertoire of young children that foreshadow mature scientific thinking. Recognizing the commonalities between mature scientists and very young children, we define scientific thinking broadly in terms of knowledge seeking – or “any instance of purposeful thinking and doing that has the objective of enhancing the seeker’s knowledge”, as stated by Kuhn in 2010. In recent years, there has been a proliferation of research investigating various aspects of this knowledge-seeking process, including work on children’s question-asking, recognition of gaps in knowledge, explanation generation, experimentation, evaluation of evidence, coordination of theory and evidence, and belief revision. We encourage submission of theoretical and empirical papers on these and related processes thought to underlie more mature scientific reasoning.

Second, this Research Topic considers how parents and families support and extend children’s natural scientific tendencies. Recent research has described various ways in which parental input in informal settings helps support children’s inquiry-based approach to explaining the phenomena around them. Parental explanations, causal talk, and wh-questions have been considered as important forms of communicative input, as well as parental strategies for supporting children’s persistence, problem-solving, and other knowledge-seeking behaviors. Some research has also begun to delineate parental characteristics such as education, occupation, as well as cultural and religious backgrounds that may help support or hinder these parent-child interactions. We welcome submission of theoretical and empirical papers on these and related communicative interactions among parents and children that promote children’s scientific thinking.

Scientific ways of knowing and the ability to think and act to enhance our understanding of the natural world represent some of the pinnacles of human intellectual achievement. By bringing together the work of numerous researchers exploring both diverse aspects of children’s natural propensity to engage in scientific thinking as well as how to support and enhance these intuitive tendencies in early childhood, the proposed research topic is poised to provide important new insights into the origins and development of this powerful intellectual capacity.


Keywords: Scientific thinking, early childhood, knowledge seeking, wh-questions, parent-child communication


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