Good science education at the earliest grades is supremely important, but in most classrooms it gets short shrift. Studies have found that children in kindergarten are already forming negative views about science that could cast a shadow across their entire educational careers. When researchers interviewed kindergartners from typical classrooms, barely a third of the children showed any knowledge of science, whether from school or other sources. Many children said that science was for older kids and adults, not kindergartners like them. They talked of science being about magic potions or dangerous chemicals; they said science is hard, science is not interesting, and “I am not good at science.” Ask a room of five-year-olds to draw a scientist, and you will likely get lots of pictures of white-coated men in laboratories. Furthermore, even before first grade, fewer girls than boys say they like science.
It is perilous to generalize about anything in the U.S. education system–quality varies enormously from classroom to classroom–but science has long been a poor stepchild to mathematics and reading. One report noted that science instruction in the early grades “occurs sporadically and rarely engages children in practices that encourage rigorous and reflective science learning.” Science is high on the list of subjects that early-grade teachers feel ill prepared to teach. A 2009 study found that Head Start children in Florida ended their pre-K year with significantly lower readiness scores in science than in any other domain.