Scientists not Sponges: STEM Interest and Inquiry in
Young children are fascinated by the natural world. They explore endlessly, with both a sense of wonder and determination, usually in self-directed investigations
or informal interactions with peers and adults. Capitalizing on this early period of spontaneous interest and inquiry is critical to efforts to promote lifelong STEMliteracy. To inform education and public outreach efforts, it is important to consider common assumptions about how children of this age learn and consider how such assumptions influence the ways we support children’s learning. Four metaphors for children learning are investigated in this paper: the young child as sponge, the young child as unlit match, the young child as scientist, and the young child as apprentice. As we critically evaluate these views on learning, we share research findings from developmental psychology that demonstrate that children’s engagement with STEM begins well before kindergarten, that children between three and five years of age develop surprisingly sophisticated
scientific reasoning capacities and conceptual knowledge, and that parents play an important role in structuring and supporting preschool children’s learning.