Body and mind are both involved when children learn

Children's relationship to science is closely associated with the body. Early childhood educators must therefore be physically and emotionally present when making scientific investigations in kindergartens.


Photo: Freddy Wike


Swedish researcher Susanne Westman visited two kindergartens in Norway, Sweden’s next-door neighbour, to interview staff about their experiences with inviting children to take part in scientific investigations. She found that the kindergartens employed many different working methods.


Children touch materials. They taste things. They see things. Kindergarten teachers believe that children’s relationship to science is closely associated with their own bodies.

‘Materials influence children more than I thought. When a new material is introduced, I see that something exciting happens. When children see a stream of water, for example, they immediately start investigating how the water flows. And they use other materials, for example, a lid, to see how the water spreads out in different directions. They often run between streams with buckets, filling them with water, then emptying them. At the same time, they talk about what is going on, describing what they are doing and using terms like slow, fast, much and little’, she expounds.


It was clear to the researcher that kindergartens focus intently on physical investigations.

‘We often divide things into body or mind, but it doesn’t have to be that way. What if we allow body and mind to be two aspects of the same learning process?’ Westman asks.

The researcher found that the children used many different working methods when playing with a stream of water. Creativity, non-verbal and verbal communication and experimental investigations all play a part. Children also test and then subsequently reflect on what they have done.

Preschool teachers take a holistic approach that is not limited to science, but also involves language, for example. At some point, social intelligence is also part of the kindergarten tradition.


‘Swedish preschools have been subjected to increasing pressure towards more learning in recent years’, Westman states. The Swedish document that is comparable to Norway’s Framework Plan for Kindergartens was revised in 2010. It signalled more emphasis on the academic aspect of preschool teachers’ jobs.

‘Many early childhood educators feel torn between providing care and devoting more attention to learning. They find it complicated to strike the right balance.

‘They deal with this by using working methods that are already familiar to them’, explains the researcher. ‘In addition, they try to avoid becoming overly goal-oriented when working with knowledge and exploration. Something gets lost when goals take over.

‘We can give them materials and talk to them, but it is incredibly important to be attentive to the children’s needs, and to be physically and emotionally there for them.

‘High-quality learning also benefits from children’s influence on the learning process.

‘The way in which kindergarten teachers work with scientific investigation can be seen as a combination of many things’, Westman suggests. ‘It might refer to aesthetic processes and creative working methods, but it can also include experimentation, reflection and conversation.

‘Collectively, this results in a widely diverse view of learning, with the point of departure being the child as a unique individual.’


Westman was impressed by how much exciting work is being done in kindergartens. She is of the opinion that there are many good aspects of the kindergarten tradition that are worth preserving.

‘That being said, we must always return to our view of the child, of knowledge and learning, and use that as our point of departure.

‘If we fail to do this, there is a risk that activities will stagnate’, cautions the researcher.

‘The risk inherent in making learning an even more prevalent aspect of kindergarten life is that we could cross a line to a more instrumental approach to learning, which is what happens in schools.

‘It is important to bring the two traditions together by building structures that support their interaction’, recommends Westman.

‘Who should define what science should be in kindergarten? Scientists or early childhood educators? I believe this is something we should define together’, she concludes.