(Excerpted from

Nurturing Multicultural and Environmental Awareness in Young Children

Science, in one sense, can be viewed as multi-culturally neutral. From this perspective content is universal, applicable, independent of regional or cultural differences or defined by societal relationships. In short, a tree is just a tree with no specific relationship to other plants and animals in its immediate environment or to a forest halfway around world.

But a tree is not just a tree. It is a living part of our planet, contributing to its own ecosystem and the environment as a whole. The tree's place in the world serves as a model for nurturing a greater appreciation of biodiversity and a deeper understanding of relationships and interactions between plants, animals, people and our planet.

As such, science education in early childhood programs can be used to foster sound environmental practices, to nurture a healthy respect for our planet and to plant the seeds for world citizenship. This approach to science and nature content not only enriches the exploration itself, but allows young children to gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of how different cultures relate, value and contribute to the world and the natural resources available to them.

The content development process we use provides educators and parents with the fundamental tools for developing content for any science topic. A brief summary of this process is provided here with a particular emphasis placed on how educators can adopt a global perspective in developing science content. Note: In developing your content take into account the ethnic diversity and backgrounds of the children in your class. Be sure your content is multi-culturally responsive, addressing the specific relationships and language requirements children have with the subject matter.

Getting Started with Content/Context Developer Questions

While there are many questions that can be included as part of your science explorations,

1) define big picture connections and concepts for young children;

2) develop process skills through direct observation and by building on previous experiences; and,

3) promote critical thinking, reasoning and problem-solving skills.

These simple questions define not only basic science information (concepts and content), but also encourage children to develop a deeper relationship and appreciation of nature and the world. Through your discussions, a tree is no longer just a tree. Rather trees are a source of food, shade, oxygen, warmth and provide shelter for both people and animals. We learn to appreciate that there are important differences between how those of us who live in urban areas view trees as compared to farmers in rural areas whose livelihood depends on crop yields. We learn and understand the delicate balance and responsibilities we all share in preserving natural habitats and how a species' survival is impacted by natural and man-made changes that can lead to habitat destruction.

Question Set #1 further provides children with the foundational elements for exploring: 1) societal and cultural relationships; and, 2) cause and effect relationships. For example, children can be asked what happens when a tree is cut down? What happens if there isn't enough water for trees? What if the water isn't clean (polluted), will trees and other plants still grow? How will the fruit from that tree be affected by dirty water or dirty air? These cause and effect questions provide the basis for developing the necessary skillset to approach real-world problems through critical thinking and analysis.

Question Set #2 is designed to further enrich your inquiries by helping you define and elaborate on topic-specific and region-specific cultural, societal and economic connections. The two Questions Sets are complementary and should be used in conjunction with one another.

BIG IDEAS AND KEY CONCEPTS: Diversity, Growth, Change, Cycles, Patterns, Relationships/Interactions, Cause and Effect

Question Set #1

What is a tree? A tree is a type of plant. (Are all plants the same? All plants share certain characteristics, but there are many different types of plants. Are all trees the same? All trees share certain characteristics, but there are many different types of trees. Different types of trees grow in different areas of the world.)

How can we describe trees? You may find it helpful to choose a particular tree, then add complexity to your observations by comparing Tree A to Tree B, and so on. This allows you to develop additional process skills, such as compare and contrast, sequence and seriate. This question and its derivative questions are used to define and describe quantitative and qualitative attributes based on individual and group observations.
What do we see when we look at a tree? How are all trees the same? How are they different? Are all leaves the same shape, size or color? How are leaves arranged on a stem? Do all trees lose their leaves in the fall? What kinds of trees are green throughout the year? How are the leaves on evergreens different from deciduous-type trees? Where do we see trees?

Kid Observations with Parent-Teacher Elaborations: Some trees can be very tall; others are shorter. Trees have a trunk with bark on it. Some bark is dark; some is lighter. Some bark is rough and bumpy to the touch. Insects and spiders live on trees. Other animals, like birds, snakes, monkeys and squirrels, live in trees. Trees have leaves that are usually green. Not all leaves are the same. The arrangment, shape and number of leaves on a stem varies widely depending on the tree type. Trees change. During the fall, the leaves on many trees change colors. In the fall, leaves can be yellow, orange, red and even purple. The leaves fall off of these trees during the fall and don't grow back until spring. Some trees have special leaves called needles. They are hard and sharp (pointy, pokey). These trees, called evergreens, don't lose all their leaves at the same time, but the needles do drop. They stay mostly green all year round. Trees need water to grow. Trees have roots. They absorb water and nutrients (food) through their roots. Some trees (and plants) need lots of water; others can survive with less.

Why are trees important? What do trees do? What role do they play? What do trees give us? What do we get from trees? Do trees do anything? Why are there so many different type of trees (plants)? Are trees alive?

Kid Observations with Parent-Teacher Elaborations: Trees, like other plants, use carbon dioxide to make oxygen, which we breathe. Trees also recycle water they absorb from the ground. The leaves from a tree gives us shade. Trees produce fruit, which we eat. Paper, wood and other things, like medicines, also come from some trees. People use the wood from trees to build things, like houses, boats and musical instruments. Insects, birds, squirrels and other animals live in trees. People sometimes burn wood to make a fire. Sometimes we burn wood in a fireplace. Other people use the fire to keep them warm, to give them light and, sometimes, to keep away wild animals.

What if there weren't any trees? This question can be re-phrased in numerous ways. You can also put a proactive spin on the question by asking: why is it important (or why do we need) to take care of trees? Similarly, this question allows students to reflect on cause and effect relationships and interactions. If there weren't any trees, many animals and insects wouldn't have a home. We wouldn't be able to eat certain fruits, like apples, peaches, bananas and coconuts. If there weren't any trees, there might be too much carbon dioxide in the air and we wouldn't get enough oxygen to breathe. We wouldn't be able to use the wood to make things we use everyday. A pre-K teacher recently asked her class, "Why is it important to take care of trees?" Here are their answers...

Question Set #2. Note: X can be any plant, animal, object or material.

Is X unique to a specific habitat or region of the world?
Where is X found?
How is X uniquely adapted to its habitat or climate?
How do other cultures use X?
What traditions are associated with X?
How is X depicted in other cultures?
What is X called in other cultures?
Where did X come from?
Did someone invent or develop X?
Who invented/developed X?

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