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Early childhood science and engineering education offer a prime context to foster approaches-to-learning (ATL) and executive functioning (EF) by eliciting children’s natural curiosity about the world, providing a unique opportunity to engage children in hands-on learning experiences that promote critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, persistence, and other adaptive domain-general learning skills. Indeed, in any science experiment or engineering problem, children make observations, engage in collaborative conversations with teachers and peers, and think flexibly to come up with predictions or potential solutions to their problem. Inherent to science and engineering is the idea that one learns from initial failures within an iterative trial-and-error process where children practice risk-taking, persistence, tolerance for frustration, and sustaining focus. Unfortunately, science and engineering instruction is typically absent from early childhood classrooms, and particularly so in programs that serve children from low-income families. However, our early science and engineering intervention research shows teachers how to build science and engineering instruction into activities that are already happening in their classrooms, which boosts their confidence and removes some of the stigma around science and engineering. In this paper, we discuss the promise of research that uses early childhood science and engineering experiences as engaging, hands-on, interactive platforms to instill ATL and EF in young children living below the poverty line. We propose that early childhood science and engineering offer a central theme that captures children’s attention and allows for integrated instruction across domain-general (ATL, EF, and social–emotional) and domain-specific (e.g., language, literacy, mathematics, and science) content, allowing for contextualized experiences that make learning more meaningful and captivating for children.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.