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Peggy Ashbrook

Peggy Ashbrook has been teaching science to preschoolers since 1988, when she became a registered family home childcare provider. Based on her experiences as a parent, childcare provider, and preschool teacher, Peggy developed and teaches a preschool science course to introduce two-, three-, and four-year-old children to scientific inquiry. Her goal is to encourage children to wonder and to look for answers themselves. She conducts workshops for teachers who work with young children to promote teaching science in their classrooms.

Peggy Ashbrook lives in Alexandria, Virginia.

More About Peggy Ashbrook

“This book has extensive lessons, directions for teachers, and includes objectives and simple activities as well as books and other resource ideas. The inclusion of suggestive observations and follow-up activities would enhance the children's knowledge and excitement of success and feeling good about themselves. Suitable for k-3.”

—Dr. Sally Goldberg, Center for Early learning and Living of the Science CELLS

“Science is one of those subjects many parents feel uneasy about teaching to their children. Some of the activities in this book are so simple you won’t believe you’re ‘doing science,’ but the kids will find whole new worlds opening up for them.”
—National Parenting Publications

Science Is Simple is a comprehensive science book for early childhood classroom teachers. The book is beautifully laid out, integrates science into the curriculum, and is comprehensive with support material. I really love the ‘Bringing Science Home!’ component. A wonderful addition to the resources for teachers.”
—Nancy Sabath, Oberlin Early Childhood Center

“This book would be useful for any teacher or parent of preschoolers. The author obviously has a lot of classroom experience and is very thorough in spelling out exactly what the teacher can do for each activity. I like her inclusion of children's book titles related to each topic, and her emphasis on allowing children to observe, explore and discover for themselves. She even includes letters that a teacher can send home to families for each topic. The book is very well thought out. The activities are age-appropriate, interesting, and seem easy to carry out.”
—Sally Kneidel, Ph.D. & Author of Creepy Crawlines and the Scientific Method Fulcrum Publishing

“Here, in easy-to-locate format, is the distillation of enough science discovery activities to keep a child busy and learning through preschool and into the early stages of elementary school. What sets this book apart from its competitors is the well-rounded curriculum that Ashbrook has provided for busy teachers and parents to slip right into. Wonderful notes, in friendly collaborative and informative language, end each of the 41 explorations and encourage subtle parent follow-up at home. Activities are grouped so that children may accumulate knowledge, increase predictive accuracy, and become closer observers. All and all, this essential, well-thought out, theoretically sound approach to science for young children is a book adults who work with preschoolers will welcome with open arms.”
Children's Literature Review

“[This] book contains so many wonderful experiments, ideas, suggestions, and possibilities it is hard to know where to begin…Unlike some other books of this type, Science is Simple includes a multitude of open-ended questions which guide the student toward self-discovery and creative thinking. If you have been looking for top-notch, sound, classroom-tested science lessons, this is the book. Highly Recommended.”
Education Oasis

Science is Simple will prove a welcome addition to preschools, day-care centers, elementary schools, and homeschooling reference libraries and curriculums.”
The Midwest Book Review

Q: Why is it so important to teach science to preschoolers? How does a foundation in science learning prepare them for school success?

Young children explore materials, ask questions, try to figure out how things work, draw and write or dictate to represent their work, listen to books read aloud, assign groups to the objects they observe, incorporate their discoveries into their imaginative play, discuss and reflect on the work they do and what it means, and do it all again. This is all part of science inquiry. Children engage in this work to make sense of the world, and by teaching science to preschoolers adults can support their work while (hopefully) providing experiences that lead to correcting their misconceptions.

Why wait until a later age when children are already exploring the natural world? Children should have the experiences of sprouting seeds, watching a slug crawl, holding a cricket, pouring and squirting water, building with blocks, cooking playdough, rolling balls on ramps and many others before they learn science at a more advanced level.

By exploring a topic or concept over weeks or even months, children have time to solve problems, experience the materials deeply, and answer the new questions that arise as they work. With a broad set of experiences in the world, including science inquiry and a moderate amount of direct instruction, children can build understanding of complex systems. The discussions and documentation that are part of science inquiry give children opportunities to use and develop vocabulary and other literacy skills, as well as practice early math learning and social skills.

Q: How can parents promote scientific inquiry and learning at home?

To support science inquiry and learning at home, parents can:

Encourage problem-solving by letting children struggle to open a door or snack package, zip their jacket or build a tower that doesn’t fall over. Let children own the joy of discovery and success at problem-solving (but it is fine to help before children give up from frustration).

Encourage questioning and finding out by saying to children, “I’m not sure, what do you think it is?” or “We might be able to try it (or ask a friend, or look in a book) to find out.”

Ask open-ended questions that steer children in the right direction in problem-solving, such as, “I wonder who we could ask about that?” and “What would happen if you put a big block on the bottom (or push on the door, or tear the slot on the cracker package)?”

Give children time to discover, and time to think before answering questions about their discoveries.

Include non-fiction and fiction in your home library. Children love the “collections” in identification books.

Q: How did the children you teach inform the activities in Science is Simple? What do your students teach you about writing activities for children?

I began teaching science with lesson plans and scripts of possible dialogue to remind myself not to say too much and not to leave out important information that linked our work to previous experiences. And then I learned so much from the children! Here are a few examples:

Discussion is a vital part of science inquiry. Children do have explanations for phenomena such as dissolving and evaporation, and need to discuss their ideas about what happens to sugar when mixed with water while making lemonade to develop their understanding.

They want to try everything themselves, so safe ways of melting and cutting need to be included.

Working with children, ages two to five, really brought home the reality that development happens at various paces. The most perceptive questioner may make very simple drawings, an early reader may be hesitant to explore, a child with speech delay may be the most persistent in problem-solving, and the child who carries a lovey may know the most about spiders.

No matter how well I plan and how experienced I am, children always come up with new ways to use the materials. This often contributes to their understanding of a science concept. One must be flexible about what is being taught and learned, and be prepared for safety with goggles for splashes, containers on lids of material that can spill, and with towels and tissues to mop up.

Don’t try to do it all in one session or day because the children will want more the next day. Children enjoy coming back to the explorations and trying new ideas.

Always have more than one book on a topic because it may be a day when reading is a preferred activity.

Children respond to open-ended questions with relish for a challenge and more exploration.

By their readiness for exploration, my students taught me to write recipe-like descriptions of science activities with explanation about why certain actions (such as goggles) are important, describing a plan for readiness that teachers (like any good cook) can tailor to their class. My hope is that teachers will use these individual activities as part of on-going inquiry to explore a concept in depth.

Q: Why do teachers shy away from teaching science to young children? What kinds of questions do teachers most often ask you in your trainings?

Many of us do not have extensive science content knowledge but we enjoy our children’s explorations and see how they develop skills as they explore. Teachers do teach science, although they may not call it science. It is harder to know how to help children make connections between the activities by having them record their understanding through drawing, dictating and writing, and reflect on the work they did—to have time to ponder and develop explanations. Science inquiry at its best requires time to develop, so teachers need to explain this to families and administrators.

Every teacher and every student has preferences for activities somewhere along the continuums of neat to messy, wet to dry, alive or not, 2-D to 3-D, and following a procedure or creating our own (among others). We should push ourselves to include activities that may be out of our comfort zone but are of high interest to the children, and to learn a little new science content every week. I recommend beginning with a short children’s book on the topic you will be exploring in your classroom, or a website aimed at middle school students.

Teachers often ask me technical questions such as, “How long do roly-polies survive in a container habitat?” or “Where can I buy good magnifiers?” They also ask for lists of resources to support science inquiry teaching and they want to share the science work that happens in their classrooms. This collaboration is one of the strengths of science and teaching!

Q: In your more than 20 years of teaching, how has the education field changed? What new challenges do modern teachers face?

There are many more resource books and curriculums for teachers to learn from in the area of science teaching. If a teacher has access to the internet, it easy to find answers to our many questions, such as: How can we make a birdfeeder? Which house plants are poisonous to people? What is a good song to sing about bouncing a ball?

Teachers have more ways to communicate with families and each other by using technology. Technology also makes new research on safety, special needs, and the importance of play in early childhood more easily available.

The playground equipment has changed—from individual swings to a single tire swing, from tall metal slides on a dirt ground to shorter plastic slides on at least 6 inches of mulch, and from a bike area (parking lot) marked off with orange cones to metal fencing all around. We see more children with severe allergies and adjust our snack list. Children seem to be watching more hours of television or video than they did 20 years ago so we discuss appropriate amounts of screen time in newsletters. Also, children are allowed less independent play so we must be mindful of developing children’s independence while we supervise them.

Our new challenges are also the old ones: to educate families and politicians about the incredible development that children achieve before kindergarten, to increase the professionalism of our work, to be mindful of the different challenges that each child faces and address those challenges as we teach the children.

At my co-op school there are fewer families where one parent does not have a paying job but the community’s value of working together in the best interest of the children has not changed.


Peggy Ashbrook interviewed on Studentcentricity radio show: "Making Discovery Simple and Exciting for Young Children." 

Watch this FREE webinar and receive a CE certificate when you join our edweb.net/classroommanagement community!


FREE Webinar - Early Childhood Investigations Webinars: Early Childhood Science Inquiry is a Journey (Not a Series of Unrelated Activities): Learning from the Research


The following Professional Development opportunities are offered by this author:

Learning and Loving Science with Young Children!This training for early childhood educators is a hands-on presentation of science activities for introducing inquiry to young children (and their teachers) using the actual materials. The individual lessons may be chosen depending on the season and on the on-going inquiry they will support. Participants will also discuss resource books and websites for additional learning, and children’s literature related to the topics.

Where’s the Inquiry? Early Childhood Science as Inquiry: What Teachers Need to KnowWith a focus on finding resources to support the practice of scientific inquiry in the early childhood classroom, this presentation helps identify how inquiry can be integrated into common early childhood science activities. Using images of children doing science, participants explore how to get the most out of each activity, and where to learn more.
The above workshops are 1-2 hours in length and limited to 50 participants within 1 hour’s drive of Alexandria, VA
Workshops developed by the Regents’ Center of University of Northern Iowa’s Center for Early Education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (CEESTEM)These workshops feature hands-on science inquiry for teachers to try and take back and experience in the classroom.

Ramps and Pathways
Young children engage in reasoning about physics when they try to figure out how to achieve an exciting result by building structures with pathways for marbles and other objects that roll. This workshop provides participants the opportunity to experience a physical science activity that is appealing for children ages 3 and up!

Bubbles are a great way to get children to experiment. Can you hold a bubble? Can you make a square bubble? Can you blow a bubble using a fork? Participants engage in bubble-blowing activities as they attempt to answer these questions and learn how making many types of bubbles promotes reasoning. Bubble recipes will be shared.

Physics of SoundA great way to learn about the physics of sound is through experimenting with making musical instruments. Using everyday objects such as tin cans and rubber bands, children learn how to control different aspects of sound such as pitch, loudness, timbre, and duration. Participants experience making their own musical instruments and learn how to foster children's interest, experimentation, and cooperation.The above workshops are each 3 hours in length and are limited to 24 participants. Click here to see full descriptions.

Full Day TrainingIn a full-day training session, participants are taken through a variety of ways to teach children science concepts, and how to maintain scientific inquiry in the early childhood classroom. Topics can be mixed and matched, or specified to your program’s needs.

Sample Agenda:

1. Teachers try their hands at science inquiry with a “teaser” from Peggy’s Ramps and Pathways training (see above).

2. What is a Scientist? Photos and discussion.

3. Sample lessons and activities:

Animal Footprints: A lesson of experiences and researchUsing Local Butterflies to Learn about Lifecycles: A PowerPoint slide show with materials show-n-tell.Winter Birds: Bird shape make-n-take.Mixing a Solution: What is dissolving?Following a Procedure: How to make Playdough (recipes will be shared).Wearing Goggles while Mixing to Make a Change: how to make “slime” with water, glue, and Borax solution.

4. Using a Book to Encourage Children to Make Predictions: Read aloud and discussion.

5. What Does Short Inquiry Look Like? Short PowerPoint of children beginning a science inquiry.

6. Nature Walk and Bird Observation: Learn to document observations to help children understand what they see

7. Closing Circle and Last Questions

The above all-day training is up to 6 hours in length with ½ hour lunch and up to 50 participants with assistance from someone on site to purchase and prepare materials.

All trainings can be adapted to meet the specific needs of your program, or to correlate to your state’s standards.

To request information about this author´s presentations, please contact [email protected].


Books by Peggy Ashbrook

Science is Simple
4 Stars
Price: $19.95