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Book talks as an approach to nature of science teaching in early childhood education


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International Journal of Science Education

ISSN: (Print) (Online) Journal homepage: https://www.tandfonline.com/loi/tsed20

Book talks as an approach to nature of science teaching in early childhood education

Lena Hansson , Lotta Leden & Susanne Thulin

To cite this article: Lena Hansson , Lotta Leden & Susanne Thulin (2020): Book talks as an approach to nature of science teaching in early childhood education, International Journal of Science Education, DOI: 10.1080/09500693.2020.1812011

To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/09500693.2020.1812011

© 2020 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group

Published online: 13 Sep 2020.

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Book talks as an approach to nature of science teaching in early childhood education

Lena Hansson , Lotta Leden and Susanne Thulin Kristianstad University, Kristianstad, Sweden


This article focuses on the need for increased attention to content issues and working methods for science teaching in Early Childhood Education (ECE). Science education research emphasises the importance of not only focusing on specific phenomena, but also on the Nature of Science (NOS). NOS teaching deals with questions about what science is, how scientific knowledge is developed and in what ways humans are involved in these processes. An inclusion of such issues is important if common stereotypical images of science and scientists are to be challenged.

Previous research has suggested that NOS can be taught through book talks connected to trade books. However, there is a lack of empirical studies at the ECE level supporting this suggestion. Thus, this article reports from the first part of a project in which researchers and teachers explored book talks as a possibility to introduce NOS in early years science (children between 1 and 5 years old). Data consists of book talks (N=48) around two picture trade books led byfive preschool teachers preceded by a teacher- researcher workshop on NOS and NOS teaching. The results show that discussions on a variety of NOS issues is possible in an ECE context. These results are discussed in relation to previous literature on both NOS teaching and science in the early years.

ARTICLE HISTORY Received 17 December 2019 Accepted 15 August 2020 KEYWORDS

Nature of science; NOS;

picture trade books; book talks; early childhood education; science


Science education research emphasises the importance of not only focusing on specific phenomena in the teaching of science, but also on the Nature of Science (NOS). This could, for example, mean discussions concerning questions about what science is, how scientific knowledge is developed, and what human elements that are relevant for these processes. Including NOS in the teaching of science can contribute to challenging stereo- typical images of science and scientists. A classic example of a stereotypical image is the picture of a white man, dressed in a lab coat and glasses, and carrying test tubes. Similarly, there are stereotypical images of science, where science is communicated as unchangeable facts and scientific knowledge processes remain hidden. Despite the large body of NOS research focusing older children and students, there has rarely been a focus on NOS

© 2020 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/), which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way.

CONTACT Lena Hansson lena.hansson@hkr.se Department of Mathematics and Science Education, Kristianstad University, S-29188 Kristianstad, Sweden


teaching for the youngest children (children between 1 and 6 years old). Thus, the study that this article builds on explores possibilities to widen the concept of science in Early Childhood Education (ECE) by also including NOS.

Science in an ECE perspective

Issues concerned with content have seldom been in focus in ECE research, and therefore increased attention to the learning object has been suggested (Pramling Samuelsson &

Asplund Carlsson, 2008). This article is part of a line of research acknowledging the need to focus on content issues and on how science in ECE can be framed and defined (e.g. Siraj-Blatchford,2001; Thulin,2016).

In a Swedish context the curriculum for ECE (in Swedish preschool,‘förskola’1) has been revised to include more specific goals related to science. This introduction of acade- mically oriented learning goals in the preschool curriculum can be seen as opposed to the play-based educational culture in which Swedish preschool is rooted. Therefore, the con- struction of science in ECE must be seen in light of a longstanding identification of pre- school as something different from school (Tellgren,2008) and in the light of expressed worries that preschool becomes too school-like (see Due et al., 2018). School-like science has often been associated with certain content (facts to memorise) and authorita- tive teaching approaches (Zacharia & Barton,2004). Such traditions stand in stark con- trast to the child-centred preschool tradition (Due et al., 2018). Hence, questions addressing the choice of science learning objects, as well as teaching approaches that can help make connections between children’s perspectives and the learning object are under discussion (Thulin,2011,2016).

The role of the teacher is central in balancing a child-centred teaching with certain aims. The teacher needs to establish a mutual simultaneity in the communication between teacher and children (Thulin, 2011; Gustavsson et al., 2016). That is, the teacher has to create connections between the child’s perspective and the learning object through a mutual dialogue. Through such connections teachers direct children’s attention towards the learning object (Pramling Samuelsson & Asplund Carlsson, 2008). However, Pramling Samuelsson and Pramling (2008) argue that preschool, to the contrary, is often characterised by a rhetoric that ‘children are constantly learning from everything’ (p. 158, our translation), a rhetoric guided by an assumption that doing automatically leads to learning and development. Consequently, there is a need to develop teaching approaches that direct attention to the learning object, and at the same time include children’s perspectives. This means avoiding both the ‘facts tradition’

and the ‘doing tradition’. Thus, more research is needed regarding appropriate science content and possible ways of approaching it in an ECE context.

Teaching nature of science in ECE

This article tries to address the need to further explore science content in ECE. When doing so we are aware of the above mentioned worries of reproducing the authoritative facts tradition from school science. However, we also bear in mind the worries of ending up in a doing tradition with non-specified learning objects (Pramling Samuelsson

& Asplund Carlsson,2008). In line with the ambition to further explore and debate what


science in preschool should be, this article contributes by exploring NOS as a possible content for ECE.

As previously mentioned, NOS has been suggested as a way to challenge and broaden the stereotypical images of science and scientists (see e.g. Erduran & Dagher,2014; Leder- man, 2007; McComas, 2017) that are frequently communicated in a science teaching characterised by a focus on facts (Hansson,2018; Leden et al.,2015; Zacharia & Barton, 2004). When science is communicated as objective and value free the role of scientists in the scientific processes often becomes downplayed or invisible. However, in cases when scientists are actually mentioned they are commonly portrayed in ways that strengthen myths: scientists as mad geniuses, or superheroes revealing the mysteries of nature simply by following a specific method (Allchin, 2014). On the other hand the doing tradition is often built on detached experiments or happenings, which does not lead to an expansion of the meaning of science (Areljung,2017), but instead offers children only – ‘“happenings” where single experiments give a “poof and bang experience”’

(Larsson,2016, p. 69, our translation). Such single, detached, (often) spectacular exper- iments have a long history and are frequent also when scientists meet the general public or students. They often convey images of science and scientists that ought to be pro- blematised (see Andrée & Hansson,2014). In conclusion, both habits that are associated with the facts and the doing tradition convey stereotypical images of science and scientists.

Including NOS in ECE, might be a way to challenge such stereotypical images.

As stated above, even though NOS is a vivid research area in science education, most educational research on NOS has focused on older students, while research focusing the ECE level is so far very limited (Akerson et al., 2010; Bell & Clair,2015). Yet, there are strong reasons to introduce broad and nuanced pictures of science early, reasons that are connected to scientific literacy, social justice and equity. An early introduction of NOS issues could for example increase the willingness and ability to take part in debates on public science issues (Schroeder et al., 2009). Further, nuanced pictures of the persons who are involved in science could make it possible for a larger group of chil- dren to view themselves as knowledgeable individuals, who can and want to engage in science. Thus, there is reason to believe that NOS ought to be taught in ECE, but more empirical studies focusing appropriate NOS content as well as teaching approaches are needed (Bell & Clair,2015).

Traditionally, picture trade books2have an important place in Swedish preschools and such books are one way in which children come in contact with science. However, pre- vious research has shown that children’s science trade books contain many of the above mentioned stereotypical images of science and scientists (e.g. Dagher & Ford, 2005;

Kelly,2018; Zarnowski & Turkel,2012). Overall, the extent to which NOS is represented in science trade books vary (Kelly,2018; Schroeder et al.,2009), but in general it is not explicitly addressed (Brunner & Abd-El-Khalick,2017; Schroeder et al., 2009). In some studies, teachers/teacher students have been given the task to write children’s books with explicit NOS content and plan for teaching sessions where these books were used.

One such recent example is a study by Akerson et al. (2019) showing that ECE teacher students during a course managed both to integrate NOS in the design of a children’s book, and plan for NOS teaching at the ECE level. They suggest that “[f]uture studies should explore how early childhood teachers engage young children with NOS, including the use of the NOS storybooks” (p. 2783). However, most ECE teachers have limited time


to design their own children’s’ books for teaching NOS. Therefore, while this can be a good learning experience during preservice and in-service teacher training it is also of interest to scrutinise whether ordinary children’s trade books can be used for teaching NOS.

However, as pointed out above, a majority of these books do not include nuanced images of science. Therefore, it has been argued that teachers need to develop skills for how to carefully plan and scaffold the book readings so that the contents of the book can be supplemented with nuanced reflections and discussions in order to broaden the images of science (Brunner,2019; Dagher & Ford,2005; Schroeder et al.,2009; Sharkawy, 2009; Zarnowski & Turkel,2012). Such scaffolds have been discussed as extra-textual talk (Anderson et al.,2012) or as dialogic and interactive read alouds (Frejd,2019; Oyler,1996;

Smolkin & Donovan,2003; Wiseman,2011)– that is, conversations that extend the text by sharing and co-constructing meaning in various ways. In this project, we have chosen the term‘book talk’, which is a summary concept for the reading from a book and the discus- sions among teachers and children connected to the reading.

NOS framework

There are several different frameworks available that suggest appropriate NOS content at school-level (e.g. Erduran & Dagher,2014; Lederman,2007; McComas,2017). However, these frameworks are not developed for the ECE level (children between 1 and 6 years old).

In this study we have taken a starting point in a NOS framework described in McComas (2017,forthcoming), consisting of three broad themes, which we argue are broad enough to be useful also for teaching the youngest children (even though this framework has not been developed specifically for that level). The three NOS themes suggested in this frame- work are: The domain of science and its limitations; Human elements of science; and Tools, processes and products of science (McComas, forthcoming). However, we have slightly modified the three categories and use: Characteristics and limits of scientific knowledge, Human elements of science; and Scientific processes and tools.

The theme Characteristics and limits of scientific knowledge include, in line with what is suggested by McComas (forthcoming), discussions on the boundaries of science as well as the tentative nature of scientific knowledge. In our description we also include the relationship between reality and the products of science (e.g. characteristics of scientific models) in this category. We regard the products of science (e.g. characteristics of scientific models) as part of the characteristics of scientific knowledge (see also Hansson et al.2019).

Therefore, the products of science are not included in the theme Scientific processes and tools. Except for this modification, we follow the suggestion by McComas’ and include issues concerned with tools, diverse methods of science, and the role of empirical evidence (see McComas,forthcoming) in the theme Scientific processes and tools. Finally, Human Elements of science, in line with McComas suggestion, deals with issues connected ‘to the reality that humans do science’ and is ‘concerned with human strengths, frailties and associations’. This theme also includes issues like the role of creativity, subjectivity and links between science, society and culture (McComas, forthcoming). It should be noted that the themes partly overlap due to that, for instance, most human elements could also be considered to influence, and thus be a part of the scientific knowledge creat- ing processes. How the categories/themes are used in this study are described in more detail in the analysis section.


Aim and research question

As already mentioned, previous research has pointed to the need to empirically explore possibilities for NOS teaching in ECE, and more specifically the need to empirically inves- tigate book talks as a way to teach NOS in ECE. The aim of the project reported on here is to develop knowledge about how book talks, in an ECE context, can be used to direct attention towards NOS. This article reports from thefirst part of the project –where the book talks were connected to two picture trade books (the books are described below).

The research question is: What NOS issues are communicated in the teachers’ first attempts to teach NOS through book talks?

Design and context of the study

Preschool in Sweden is a voluntary school form entailing education and play. Nearly 85%

of all children (ages 1-53) attend preschool and of children from the age of four years, 95%

participate (www.skolverket.se/statistik). There is a national curriculum for preschool (Swedish National Agency for Education,2010) which includes science goals concerning both contents and scientific working methods.

The overarching idea of the project was that NOS might be explored through book talks that elaborate on various NOS aspects while reading children’s picture trade books with a science content. The original idea is described in Hansson and Leden (2019) building on pre- vious research (see above). During the project, ideas and goals were further shaped in collab- oration between researchers and staff at one preschool. This researcher-teacher collaboration was a step to make research outcomes more relevant to practice (c.f. Van der Akker,2014).

Since the research project is performed in close collaboration, where teachers and researchers jointly explored NOS as a content for preschool, we strived to develop, a symmetrical relationship (Sensevy et al.,2013) with the teachers. Thus, during focus groups, we asked tea- chers to share their viewpoints and experiences from their attempts to teach NOS, but did not evaluate their knowledge (e.g. with questionnaires or interviews which is the case in many previous NOS studies). Instead, we focused on the teaching and what happened during the book talks that the teachers led. This focus makes it possible to answer our research question about what NOS issues that are communicated in the teachers’ first attempts to teach NOS through book talk, but does not provide an answer as to why teachers directed attention to some NOS issues and not to others. However, some information about why some NOS issues were in focus and not others was received from focus group discussions with the tea- chers. This information includes the teachers’ knowledge, but also their experiences concern- ing children’s reactions in relation to different NOS issues, and what they found appropriate to teach and possible to link to the children’s previous experiences. This information was used in workshops during the continuation of the project.

The participating preschool was structured aroundfive units, three units consisted of children aged three to five years and two units consisted of children aged one to three years. One teacher from each unit took part in the project, which lasted one semester.

Allfive participating preschool teachers had received a preschool-teacher education (3.5 years, academic level) and all of them had long teaching experience.

The project lasted one semester and included workshops, focus groups and a large number of book talks. The project begun with a two-day workshop where the teachers


learnt about NOS through taking part in NOS activities, and teachers and researchers jointly discussed various children’s books from a NOS perspective. During the workshop the teachers collaboratively planned what NOS issues to focus on in relation to the up- coming book talks. In the days following the workshop teachers and children begun the NOS book talks. In this article thisfirst part of the project is described. We report the analysis centred around two picture trade books (see description of the books in the fol- lowing section). These book talks took place during thefirst month of the project. After this the project continued with further book talks connected to other books. Moreover, teacher-researcher workshops and focus groups followed during which NOS and NOS- teaching were revisited with the starting point in the teachers’ experiences and the prelimi- nary results based on the researchers’ observations.

Description of the books

Both books that were used in thisfirst part of the project, made explicit references to NOS (c.f. Schroeder et al.,2009). Thefirst book Once upon a time there were a lot of dinosaurs (Sheppard,2008) contains colourful pictures and a great deal of textual information. Most of the content is of informational character integrated with imaginary elements such as headings referring to dinosaur groups as, for instance,‘the long throat gang’, and pictures of dinosaurs talking and thinking. A couple of pages in the book contain information about fossils and palaeontologists – ‘a kind of detectives of prehistoric times’ (p. 26) – clearly displaying that people are involved in the knowledge processes (e.g. searching for fossils). There are pictures of palaeontologists (a woman and a man) using spades and hatches, and the book says that palaeontologists‘collect evidence and try to figure out… ’ (p.26). There are also instances where the reader/listener gets to know that knowl- edge changes:‘Previously we thought that / … / Now we believe that / … /’ (p. 20). Further, the book communicates that there are things we do not know:‘it is exciting that no one knows for sure’. (p.23). However, uncertainty can also be more implicitly communicated:

‘People think so anyway’ (p. 16). Thus, even though much of the book communicates facts about dinosaurs there are also instances with explicit references to NOS issues.

The other book, Peep inside space (Milbourne,2016), hasflaps that can be opened and holes that can be peeped through. The book begins with a countdown and a picture of astronauts going to space. Each page contains only a small amount of text and almost all pages contain pictures of humans (astronauts) in action: flying through space, putting on space suits and using specific equipment (space craft, computer, robot, camera etc.), and taking part in leisure time activities (playing, eating, and sleeping).

Thus, the book provides information about space, but also some information about how astronauts are involved in developing such knowledge (e.g. through taking pictures,

‘looking’, and working with computers). The book concludes by stating that ‘we haven’t found any living on other planets yet’ (p. 14), thus alluding that research is ongoing and that we do not yet know everything about space.

Data and analysis

Data consists of 48 audio recorded book talks connected to the above described books.

Both books were read and discussed with the children several times (two to ten times)


by each of thefive teachers as young children often appreciate when the same book is read many times. Each book talk lasted between 10 and 40 min. One of the researchers visited all groups on several occasions during the book talks. This was a way to get familiar with the children and teachers as well as to get deeper insights into the specific context of the preschool (see e.g. Greene & Hill,2005). Passages in the recorded material that concerned discussions related to NOS were transcribed verbatim.

The analysis was a qualitative content analysis (Hsieh & Shannon,2005) carried out in two steps. In thefirst step a thematic content analysis was employed using the NOS frame- work slightly revised (see above) from McComas (2017, forthcoming), to categorise sequences in the transcripts. The revised themes were: Characteristics and limits of scien- tific knowledge, Human elements of science, Scientific processes and tools.

McComas (forthcoming) has suggested a number of issues connected to each of the three themes. These issues were not used in this study since they are not specifically devel- oped for the ECE level. Instead, the second step of the analysis involved an explorative, empirically grounded content analysis were each of the three themes was examined for subthemes. During this second step of the analysis the transcripts were read repeatedly and subthemes were developed and re-organized through constant comparison until the properties of the themes became stable (cf. Glaser & Strauss,1967). These subthemes will be presented in the results section of the article, together with examples from the tran- scripts (translated into English).

Since the focus of the analysis is on the contents of the conversations the transcripts only indicate whether it is the teacher or a child who talks (no names are used). If more than one child or teacher are active in an excerpt, they are separated by figures.

Each excerpt is labelled according to the age group in which the book talk took place (i.e. Y 2-3, for a group where the children were between two and three years old).

Ethical considerations

The research adheres to the ethical guidelines of the Swedish Research Council (Swedish Research Council,2011). Participating preschool teachers as well as the children’s care- givers were informed about the purpose and the implementation of the study, and gave written permission for their own or each child’s participation. Research involving children poses specific ethical considerations (UNICEF,2009). The children were informed prior to the start of the project and before recorded book talks and were able to choose not to participate.


This section describes the NOS issues that were discussed by teachers and children during the books talks. We organise the section with the starting point in the three overarching themes: Scientific processes and tools, Characteristics of science and its limits, and Human elements of science (see above). Teacher-children conversations are described for each overarching theme together with the subthemes that were developed during the second step of the analysis. A variety of excerpts from the book talks are chosen to show the characteristics of each theme and its subthemes.


Directing attention towards scientific processes and tools

When the teachers direct attention towards scientific processes and tools it means that they, in one way or another, emphasize that scientific knowledge is not only there, but has been developed through scientific work. This theme is most frequently revisited by all teachers during the book talks. One example is when the teacher stops reading and asks the chil- dren:‘No one has seen them [the dinosaurs], how can we know that there has been dino- saurs?’ (Y 2-3). Such instances are frequent and even if these questions sometimes are left unanswered, they still direct attention to that knowledge presented in the book has been developed somehow. In other book talks teacher and children are involved in mutual dis- cussions on the topic. The analysis resulted in two subthemes: empirical and theoretical aspects of science.

Empirical aspects

Empirical aspects are by far the most commonly revisited aspect when attention is directed towards the processes of science. Sometimes it is just a mentioning (by either teacher or children) that someone needs to investigate, has seen, found, checked or looked closely at something, but without further discussion of details:

Teacher: [reads]‘People can fly into space and explore’. How do you think we do when we explore space?

Child: Go up in a rocket.

Teacher: Yes it says here,‘then we go up in a rocket’. (Y 3-5)

Although the discussion in the quotation above is limited, it still emphasises that humans explore space, and that a specific tool – a rocket – is used. In other instances the discussions of how persons – scientists – are doing something concrete are more specific and developed, often mentioning various instruments. In the quotation below the children and teacher talk about tools that can be used when digging for dinosaur skeletons:

Child 1: And then it has a hatch and a small brush and a spade.

Teacher: What do they use the spade and hatch and brush for?

Child 1: Because you have to, when you have dug it up, whisk.

Child 2: Then you have to paint it.

Child 1: Wait, no,… if it is really hard gravel they hack with the axe, and then when they have dug up the skeleton they need gloves as well… and I know why they use a brush, it’s just because the sand needs to come off. (Y 4-6)

In this example attention is directed to the need for a number of tools during different phases of the process. In many instances the instruments and specific equipment become the focus of attention by discussing different kinds of tools and how they are used. Many of these tools are closely connected to hands on investigations: cameras, tele- scopes, spades, maps of the sky, robots. Other tools are only indirectly connected to scien- tific investigations such as plastic bags to collect things in, tools for mending things, flashlights, specific vehicles, and clothes. Equipment (such as clothes, air tubes, straps and lines) that are needed in order to be able to withstand the extreme conditions in space are discussed at some detail in all groups. The teachers also, to some extent, talk about why the tools are used. As an example, in relation to the book about space, the


teacher says:‘the camera has sent pictures, otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to see what it looks likes.’ (Y 5-6).

In a rare example the teacher directs attention to the relation between observations and conclusions. The teacher reads‘ … they [the dinosaurs] liked to swim and only ate leaves’

(p.11). The teacher stops reading and wonders how it is possible to know this:

Teacher: And they have seen that they ate leaves then? How can they see that on the skeletons?

Child: Because you can see that it has teeth.

Teacher: It might show on the teeth. (Y 5-6)

Here attentions is directed to that conclusions about dinosaurs (for example what they ate) are built upon empirical observations (‘It [that they ate leaves] might show on the teeth’).

Theoretical aspects

Compared to the amount of empirical references there are only few instances where the book talks discuss theoretical or rational aspects of scientific knowledge processes. One example is when a child on a number of occasions emphasises that the scientist has to think in order to gain knowledge:

Teacher: It says here that no people lived at that time… how do we know that they [the dinosaurs] were different sizes?

Child: Because, maybe they have thought about it.

Teacher: They have thought about it, how do you mean?

Child: They have probably walked back and forth, like a thinker, and then they know… (Y 4-6)

Although limited, this dialogue is about rational, rather than empirical, scientific processes when the child introduces thinking as essential for the process of attaining knowledge.

Other scientific processes, here categorised as theoretical, are that the scientists read, write and have to learn and study a lot. In some cases also tools and equipment that are needed for theoretical work such as computers, books, pens and paper are mentioned during the book talks. These kinds of processes add perspectives to the more frequently discussed empirical aspects (e.g. observations). Furthermore, in the example below the teacher tries to challenge the notion that data speaks on its own and directs attention to a difference between inferences and observations:

Teacher: If there is a skeleton here, they can see that there has been afire, and then they have guessed that it was a greatfire … and that’s why the dinosaurs have disap- peared. (Y 2-3)

In the quotation the teacher talks about how scientists have interpreted observations of skeletons next to traces of afire as a sign that fire might be the reason for the dinosaur extinction.

Directing attention towards characteristics and limits of scientific knowledge When the teachers direct attention towards the characteristics and limits of scientific knowledge they highlight the boundaries and tentative nature of science through two sub- themes: There are things that are uncertain and things we do not know and Scientific


knowledge can change. However, the boundaries and limits are discussed in relation to what we know now, and are not discussed as generic principles for the characteristics and limits of science. Even if all teachers at some point direct attention to aspects of NOS related to this theme it is often done in a rather implicit manner and it happens far less often than for the other two themes.

There are things that are uncertain and things we do not know

The book talks show no general discussion of the limits of science. However, attention is sometimes directed towards things science (we) do not (yet) know. Most often references to uncertainty is made implicitly, for instance by stating that scientists‘believe’. The fol- lowing is an example of a rarer, more explicit discussion, in this case, about things we do not know:

Teacher: [reads]‘We haven’t found anyone living on other planets yet’

Child: Like Aliens!?

Teacher: They write here that there was no life on Mars, but that you can’t be sure, they are still investigating this, there are scientists in space now who stillfind out thing about this. (Y 4-6)

The above extract emphasises that there are things that are uncertain and also that research in the area is ongoing (see the following section).

Sometimes the fact that we do not know is questioned or challenged by the children.

When doing so they often use their experiences or other knowledge sources than the teacher by for instance referring to what they have previously seen in a book, in a movie, or as in this case on their iPad:

Teacher 1: They have never seen one [alien].

Teacher 2: No, no one knows.

Child: But I have seen it on my iPad. (Y 5-6)

In this example the child is referring to another source of information, and thus implicitly questions that this is something that‘no one knows’ as the teacher says. The teacher does not continue the discussion at this point.

Scientific knowledge can change

In some rare examples the book talks direct attention towards the tentativeness of scien- tific knowledge. Most often this is done through communicating that research is ongoing and in progress also today (see previous example about aliens). This, however, is a rather implicit way to approach tentativeness. In one single example tentativeness is made more explicit through raising historical examples of how scientific knowledge has changed. In the following excerpt (connected to the dinosaur book), the shape of the Earth is discussed:

Teacher: It is a little bit exciting… a long, long time ago one thought that only the earth existed and that is was allflat.

Child 1: What?

Child 2: What?

Teacher: Yes, that’s how it was a long, long time ago. … Child 1: A little bit like a pancake.

Teacher: But how do you think they got to know that the earth was round? (Y 5-6)


In this book talk it is implied that knowledge about the shape of the Earth has changed.

The teacher also asks about possible reasons for this change, but neither the teacher nor the children continue that discussion.

Directing attention towards human elements of science

When attention is directed towards human elements of science this means that the book talks emphasize that humans play an important part in for instance developing knowledge, investigating, and naming. As previously described the teachers often stop reading and comment on or raise questions related to the text:‘it says that these people and scientists have been interested and have investigated’ (Y 5-6). This way attention is directed towards the humans involved in science. There are specific subthemes concerned with human elements of science that all teachers frequently discussed during the book talks. These are Who can be a scientist?, Characteristics of scientists, and Cultural attributes.

Who can be a scientist?

Both teachers and children take part in labeling the involved humans. They state that they are‘scientists’, ‘astronauts’, or ‘paleontologist’. During the book talks science is introduced as a profession and the question of whom can have this profession comes up. The main issue raised by the teachers is whether both men and women can be scientists. In the fol- lowing excerpt, the teacher directs children’s attention to a picture in the book where both a girl and a boy are involved in studying dinosaurs.

Teacher: But who do you think can work with it; can you see, both a girl and a boy is here.

Child: Everyone can work with it actually, even I work as it, I have collected loads of fossils out there.

Teacher: Yes, then we can pretend that you have been a paleontologist, and what do you think they need to know, paleontologists? (Y 4-6)

The child in this dialogue, answers the teacher by positioning everyone, including him/

herself, as being able to work as a scientist (collecting fossils). The teacher however, only partly agrees, which connects directly to other issues that are discussed during the book talks, for instance, that the scientist need a great deal of prior knowledge, and whether both children and adults can be involved in research or have jobs.

Characteristics of scientists

In the previous excerpt, the teacher asks about the knowledge that is required by a scien- tist. Additional competencies or characteristics are discussed in some instances such as strength, specific interest, or bravery: ‘It says here on his sweater that he loves dinosaurs, so he really wants to find dinosaurs, so he works with that, it’s his job’ (Y 1-3). This example highlights driving forces (extraordinary interest), but it also emphasises that searching for dinosaur skeletons is a job, which becomes a way to show scientists as ordin- ary individuals (science is a job). Further, another way to pinpoint scientists as human beings is to show them as persons with feelings and needs just like everyone else, for instance, that, during space travels, the astronauts need to breathe, sleep, eat and play, and sometimes they are frightened or miss their families.


A specific competence that the teachers frequently direct attention to is scientists’

ability and need to cooperate. In the following example the children and teacher talk about a picture in the dinosaur book where paleontologistsfind a dinosaur tooth:

Child: They [the dinosaurs] have dropped the tooth.

Teacher: Yes, and they [the paleontologists] dig with their spades and then they mightfind the tooth and then they bring it to their job and then they check, what kind of a tooth can this be, and they might read in a book or look in the computer or check the web if there might be someone else who has found such a tooth and they can share [information]. (Y 2-3)

Sometimes cooperation is mentioned without discussing why scientists cooperate, while in other instances, it is coupled to the hard workload, to supporting each other when they are scared, or due to security reasons. Emphasising that scientists work together serves as a way to challenge the frequent stereotype of the‘lonely scientist’.

Cultural attributes

In a community, certain cultural attributes can develop. When the book about space is read, two very specific cultural expressions are discussed; that you count backwards when launching a space craft, and that a flag is placed on the moon by the astronauts.

The book itself only mentions the countdown. Still, the book talks often revisit both forms of cultural expressions:

Teacher: What do you think they need then when they go to the moon?

Child: I know, aflag.

Teacher: Aflag, and what do they use it for?

Child: Put it on the moon if they land.

Teacher: A bit like a proof that now I have been to the moon, yeah. (Y 4-6)

The excerpt shows one of many discussions connected to a page in the book where astro- nauts land on the moon. Here, one of the children brings up‘a flag’ as something that astronauts need to bring on a trip to the moon and the teacher turns attention to the flag as a cultural attribute, used as an evidence of presence and performance.

Discussion and conclusions

The results show that conversations about NOS are possible also for the youngest children.

The teachers veryfirst attempts to introduce NOS through book talks show an emphasis on scientific processes and tools, but there are also issues related to characteristics and limits of science, and human elements of science. The focus in this study on early years science contributes to the NOS literature, as NOS teaching in ECE previously has had limited attention in research (Akerson et al.,2010; Bell & Clair,2015).

An important conclusion is that, the teachers were able to direct attention towards a variety of NOS issues after only a shorter (two-day) introduction. This means that the introduction of a book talk approach may function as a scaffold that enables teachers to address NOS aspects, which in turn means that the images of science and scientists can be broadened in the ECE setting. In this case the teachers started with books that were known to already include some explicit references to NOS which might be one aspect


of success in the initial work with NOS. This is promising due to the previously reported need to support teachers with respect to NOS teaching.

From the results of this study we argue that the books can provide a common frame of reference for children and teachers that contributes to establishing a mutual simultaneity (e.g. Thulin,2011; Gustavsson et al., 2016) in the conversations. However, we have also seen examples of when teachers’ efforts to direct attention to a NOS issue is not responded to by the children. When this happens repeatedly and attempts to address certain NOS issues are not picked up by the children, they might be abandoned altogether if teachers cannotfind new approaches that appear to be more fruitful. More research is needed to gain further knowledge of strategies that teachers can use during book talks to highlight NOS. Such future studies have to keep in mind the various values that are relevant in different ECE contexts, for example the social pedagogical tradition of a child-centered teaching to which the preschool in Sweden belongs (see e.g. Pramling & Pramling Samuels- son,2011). A balance is needed between directing attention to specific NOS issues, and the child-centered perspective. This meansfinding ways to link different NOS issues to the experiences and interest of the children, in a way that avoids turning the book talks into teacher-centered events where the teacher talk at length about things that the children do not respond to. Thus, strategies need to be explored as regards their adequacy in relation to different NOS issues, children’s and teacher’s previous NOS experiences and knowledge, as well as to how children answer to various strategies used by the teachers.

Further studies are also requested in relation to how conversations can be broadened and deepened in relation to all three NOS themes, and for different age groups. We have seen differences between the different NOS themes and sub themes, that might depend on several aspects. One aspect might be teachers’ own knowledge and understand- ing of NOS, another might be their perceptions of what is appropriate for the children, or the extent to which theyfind ways to connect different NOS issues to children’s experi- ences. There is a need to look closer into what a progression for the different NOS themes can look like at the ECE level. Such a progression has to build on empirical evi- dence from the ECE context and take children’s experiences and interests into account.

The present study is part of such a line of research. In the continuation of the project we tried to focus on NOS issues that had not been dealt with to the same extent as others during the book talks in the beginning of the project. In forthcoming articles, we will take a closer look at the above described issues.

Implications for practice

For NOS to become a part of ECE science, NOS and NOS-teaching must become part of ECE science teacher education as well as in-service teacher training. Such training should include concrete teaching strategies as well as examples of NOS issues that can be dealt with for these young children. This article contributes with a strategy to teach NOS that seems to be fruitful and suitable in relation to the ECE teaching tradition in which book talks are common. Connecting NOS to known teaching approaches might be a fruit- ful way to make NOS teaching a part of ECE. In this case, the book talk approach, also connects NOS (and science) to aims of literacy development.

Introducing NOS in early years science (children between 1–5 years old) might contrib- ute to the development of a new way of teaching science in ECE, where children are


introduced to discussions about how, why and by whom scientific knowledge is developed.

Thus, the results reported on in this article show examples of how NOS book talks can contribute to an ECE science that enables discussions that broaden the view of science and scientists and thus challenge stereotypical images. Consequently the‘doing tradition’

that has been reported as common in ECE is challenged by talking about science and not only doing science as detached happenings. Simultaneously, a reproduction of the‘fact tra- dition’ of school science is avoided, when scientific knowledge (‘facts’) are coupled to dis- cussions about NOS.


1. Preschool (‘förskola’) in Sweden is a non-mandatory ECE for children aged 1–5 years 2. Trade books are books published for the general public and not primarily aimed to be used as

educational material.

3. In Sweden children can start preschool by the age of 1, and they leave preschool in August the year they turn 6. Thus, some of the oldest children in our study (which run between February and June) have reached the age of 6.


This work was supported by the research platform‘Collaboration for Learning’ at Kristianstad Uni- versity, Sweden [2017-2312-519, 2018-2312-557 and 2019-2312-590]. We are grateful to the pre- school teachers and the children for being part of the project

Disclosure statement

No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author(s).


This work was supported by the research platform‘Collaboration for Learning’ at Kristianstad Uni- versity, Sweden [2017-2312-519, 2018-2312-557 and 2019-2312-590].


Lena Hansson http://orcid.org/0000-0003-3175-5185 Lotta Leden http://orcid.org/0000-0002-8255-3607 Susanne Thulin http://orcid.org/0000-0001-7276-5422


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