Argumentation is a curious activity: We use one statement to support another.
We give and take arguments not only when we disagree, but also when we try to solve a problem together. In both cases, being able to present arguments for a belief or for an action is a procedure we often closely relate to being rational: One who can give reasons has thought through her position. By giving reasons we also refer to statements we hold to be true or correct, otherwise we would not offer them as arguments. Listening to what reasons a child brings forward allows me a glance into what he holds to be true. For the natural sciences, this gives a glimpse into the conceptualisations the child works from.
That children start to engage in argumentation as early as their second year has been well-established by now. This is a quite interesting finding, as argumentation presupposes some form of ability to take the perspective of the other, as the argument needs to be designed towards the interaction, the common ground and the beliefs of the other.
Interestingly, researchers have long looked for argumentation in children by searching for dissensus, controversy and quarrel. Here they would often find initial forms of argumentation, but these were often replaced by physical actions, calling on adults or just walking away during the interaction.
In more cooperatively framed situations however, we find younger children reasoning their way from one set of assumptions to another. These situations are often marked by a problem-solving character (What could be a good solution? And why?) and explorative functions (I would really like to know how this came about! And why?) Ehlich (2014) distinguishes – for older children, but also applicable to younger children – between persuasive argumentation, which aims at persuading the other in a confrontative setting, and explorative argumentation, which stresses the cooperative work on a problem through reasoning. When we hear the word “argumentation”, we often think of the former. The more complex- as well as the more interesting for science talk -is the latter. So ask for reasons. And give reasons. Exchange reasons. And do not dismiss them right away, but instead try to understand their grounds. And if you have run out of reasons, try to gather more information.