There is common agreement that preschool-level science education affects children’s curiosity, their positive approach toward science, and their desire to engage with the subject. Children’s natural curiosity drives them to engage enthusiastically in all forms of exploration. Engaging in scientific exploration necessitates self-regulation capabilities and a wide repertoire of cognitive and metacognitive strategies. The purpose of this study was to examine to what extent preschoolers (aged 5–6 years) implement nascent inquiry skills, metacognitive awareness, and self-regulation capabilities during play-based scientific exploration tasks. An additional purpose was to investigate the relationships between these capabilities, a relationship not yet investigated in the context of play-based, scientific exploration among young children. The study consisted of 215 preschoolers, from 10 preschools. For this study, we developed two scientific exploration tasks – structured and open-ended. Our motivation was to examine whether preschoolers’ capabilities will differ in the context of structured task which is aligned with the view that young children need guidance and explicit instructions compared to the context of open-ended, play-based task–allowing the children to apply and test their intuitive theories and skills. During performance participants were videotaped. Their verbal and non-verbal responses were analyzed by means of a coding scheme. The results of a micro-analysis of about 100 h of video showed that given the opportunity, even without setting explicit goals and instructions, children exhibit inquiry capabilities: they ask questions, plan, hypothesize, use tools, draw conclusions. Asking questions and planning were better manifested during the structured task. Children also manifested higher levels of attention, persistence, and autonomy during the structured task. However, significant higher scores of self-regulation indications were revealed in the context of the open-ended, play-based, exploration task. Moreover, results indicate significant correlations between the five measures of preschoolers’ inquiry capabilities and measures of metacognitive strategic awareness and self-regulation. The results of the present study suggest the importance of combining various learning environments and experiences in early science education that encourage children to engage in structured exploration alongside play-based, open-ended, exploration.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1790
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
StatePublished - 21 Jul 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Copyright © 2020 Fridman, Eden and Spektor-Levy.


  • early childhood
  • exploration
  • inquiry
  • metacognition
  • science education
  • self-regulation


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