Communicating about Collections

By Ashbrook, Peggy | Science and Children, November 2006 | Go to article overview

Communicating about Collections

Ashbrook, Peggy, Science and Children

Byline: Peggy Ashbrook

Children love to collect all kinds of things, from sticks to colorful leaves to trading cards. These objects are special to children because they found the objects and chose them for a quality determined by them. For preschool students, the quality could be shape, a certain feel in the hand, color, or even just being close at hand. Exploring the qualities of a collection can be an engaging experience that builds on prior learning while introducing or practicing such skills as asking questions, comparing, sorting, counting, describing, developing understanding of the objects, and communicating about the investigations, all part of doing scientific inquiry as defined by the National Science Education Standards for grades K-4.

Working with a collection in a scientific way encourages children to evaluate the items in the collection and use higher-order thinking skills while learning knowledge and vocabulary-valuable skills for becoming successful readers (Neuman 2005). Students' delight in collections encourages interest in understanding and using text-to learn about their collections and share it with others.

Bring books into the classroom to inspire collecting. Reading aloud a few pages of nonfiction books on the subject of a collection, such as shells, teaches both vocabulary and scientific content without overwhelming young children's attention spans. Although some first and second graders can read about the subject of their collection themselves, research has shown that reading aloud to children on a frequent basis is one of the most important activities for developing early literacy (Green 2006).?Reading aloud helps build basic learning readiness skills of focused listening and lengthened attention span as it "provides children with opportunities to refine language comprehension skills, exercise visual focus, and build basic knowledge" (Blaustein 2005).Reading aloud to the class also gives a shared knowledge base for class discussions.

Displaying a collection gives students places to put text and a reason for it-describing a collection, labeling names of rocks or minerals and describing where they were collected, or posting the names of the different life stages of a beetle (larva, pupa, adult beetle). This use of text is appropriate in early childhood care centers and preschools where normally there is great variation in developing literacy and in elementary schools, where it is hoped that all students will pass standardized reading tests.

A collection does not have to be of specimens purchased or taken from nature to support the goals of reading about the collected items, investigating them, and writing about them. A collection can be made of pictures cut from the newspaper or magazines and then sorted into categories such as "capital letters" and "lowercase letters," "things that are alive" and "things that are not alive," or "food from trees" and "food from grasses." The following activity uses items that are usually discarded, such as bottle lids or envelopes, to begin a collection.


Blaustein, M. 2005. See, hear, touch! The basics of learning readiness. Beyond the Journal, Young Children on the Web (July)

Green, S.D., R. Peterson, and J.R. Lewis. 2006. Language and literacy promotion in early childhood settings: A survey of center-based practices. Early Childhood Research and Practice 8(1):

Neuman, S.B., and K. Roskos. 2005. Whatever happened to developmentally appropriate practice in early literacy? Beyond the Journal, Young Children on the Web (July)

Sorting Caps


Photograph courtesy of the author

To provide a meaningful activity to support early literacy and science learning.


Any collection of similar items, such as stamps, rocks, model cars, leaves, buttons, insects, envelopes, letters cut from a newspaper, and bottle lids. …

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