Expert Articles

Learning Modes for Toddlers and Early Scientific Exploration

Author: Dr. Paul Yau Ho Wong
Assistant Professor at Tung Wah College (School of Art Humanities)

Infants are born with an inherent curiosity, which is a part of human behaviour from the moment of birth. They are like “emerging scientists” who eagerly seek to explore and gather information about the world using their senses—vision, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. Research shows that infants observe and turn towards faces, grasp objects to put them in their mouths, and track objects with their eyes, all in an effort to gain more information. When a toddler repeatedly drops a ball and watches it disappear, only to reappear, they exhibit joy. These behaviours are early indicators of human exploration and how humans use exploratory experiences to learn. Through scientific exploration activities, toddlers learn by constructing new knowledge based on their known experiences and skills and by developing a deeper understanding of their environment.

The Importance of Cultivating Scientific Exploration in Toddlers

Toddlers are active thinkers. During the process of scientific exploration, they utilize critical thinking and problem-solving skills, including questioning, observing, classifying, explaining, applying, developing, and expressing their own ideas while also considering others’ perspectives. Studies indicate that toddlers who are eager to explore demonstrate higher levels of self-confidence and self-esteem, better integration of disciplinary knowledge, and improved social-emotional development.

Topics for Early Scientific Exploration

Caregivers can focus on connecting toddlers’ everyday life experiences with various interesting phenomena in nature. They can engage toddlers in scientific exploration through activities such as cooking, molding clay, studying the ecology of animals and plants, exploring light and darkness, floating and sinking, heat and cold, and more.

Promoting Toddlers' Scientific Exploration: The Role of Caregivers

Caregivers can become partners in exploration, creating an accepting, encouraging, and supportive environment that nurtures children’s experiences of scientific exploration. They can help toddlers understand and create meaning through practice, investigation, and communication.

Caregivers can foster toddlers’ construction of knowledge through scientific exploration skills.

  • Observation: Using their senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell) to understand the characteristics of the environment.
  • Comparison: Measuring, counting, quantifying, and/or examining the similarities and differences between objects and events.
  • Classification: Grouping and sorting based on attributes such as size, shape, colour, and purpose.
  • Measurement: Describing quantitatively through direct observation or indirect use of measurement units.
  • Communication: Naming, recording, and sharing observations and discoveries orally or in written forms (e.g., pictures, maps, charts, or journals) so that others can understand what has been learned.


  • Curriculum Development Council. (2017). Kindergarten education curriculum guide, p.11.
  • Ogu, Uchenna;Schmidt, Suzie Reynard (2009). Investigating Rocks and Sand: Addressing Multiple Learning Styles through an Inquiry-Based Approach.  YC Young Children, 64, 2.
  • Stacey, Susan. (2019). Inquiry-based early learning environments: Creating, supporting, and collaborating. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.
  • Gerde, H. K., Schachter, R. E., & Wasik, B. A. (2013). Using the scientific method to guide learning: An integrated approach to early childhood curriculum. Early Childhood Education Journal, 41(5), 315-323.
  • Heidi L. Hollingsworth & Maureen Vandermaas-Peeler (2017) ‘Almost everything we do includes inquiry’: fostering inquiry-based teaching and learning with preschool teachers, Early Child Development and Care, 187(1), 152-167.
  • Ogu, et al. (2009) Investigating rocks and sand: Addressing multiple learning styles through an inquiry-based approach. Young Children, 64(2),  12-18.
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Learning Modes for Toddlers and Early Scientific Exploration