Get Thinking: Celebrate Science Week with Kids

March 15, 2016

It’s British Science Week and a perfect time to think about, talk about and explore science in the everyday world with our kids. If children only understand science as a subject at school, we run the risk of them perceiving science as something at which they are either good, bad or just ok. They get graded, evaluated and a temporary academic stumble might mean the difference to a child between loving science and hating it.  And because we know our kids best, we have an opportunity to encourage their individual interests in how the physical world works without it feeling like a school lesson. It takes a little effort on our part as parents. But chances are we’ll learn a few new things ourselves. So without having to take over the kitchen for an experiment, here are some suggestions for bringing science alive in your day to day relationship with your kids.

Look Up & Down – Do you know the names of different cloud types? Can you explain how rain is formed and the molecules that comprise water? As you’re walking to school, observe the size of a puddle, and when it shrinks, explain evaporation. Looking down also means getting really close to the ground. Ask your child to search for creatures that live in the grass or near the water. How do they survive? Have your child describe an ant. Explain an exoskeleton. Be willing to get a bit dirty yourself getting closer to nature.

Cook – How often have you made pasta for your kids? Ever taken the time to discuss the boiling point of water or how adding salt to the pot makes it take longer? Ever wonder why tiny bubbles form on the bottom of the pot before the boil? Next time you make muffins together, divide the mix and omit the baking powder and soda from one half of the batch (ok, maybe just a little of it) to see what happens. Wondering how to explain what baking soda does to make foods rise? A tablet computer in the kitchen gives you not only recipes but formulas and explanations.  Have your child look up the difference between sodium bicarbonate and sodium hydrogencarbonate and tell you how they act differently in baked goods.

Travel – What makes a boat float, an airplane fly? Can you explain combustion and the reaction going on inside a car’s engine that propels it forward? How does an electric train work? Even the act of walking can be an observation in muscles, bones, nerves and respirations.

Brush your teeth – Just about anything we do to maintain our bodies is an opportunity to learn about biology. Did you know that brushing in the morning before you’ve eaten is more effective at maintaining a healthy mouth? And if you brush right after eating you’re actually interrupting the enamel-protective elements of your saliva? You can discuss how food digestion starts in the mouth, the power of enzymes, the mechanics of swallowing, how the liver and pancreas produce bile and insulin. Best of all, for a six year-old, how poop is made. Get a simple microscope and do a skin scraping so kids can see they’re made up of cells and that every seven years we regenerate completely new skin. And don’t miss the priceless look on a child’s face when they hear their own heart beat for the first time using an inexpensive stethoscope.

Read & Watch – If the idea of explaining cloud formations or the gut microbiome exhausts you, turn to books or videos to learn right alongside your child. Here’s a list of some of the best books out there to read with your child. Reading together can actually be a lesson in science, as studies show that oxytocin, the “cuddle hormone” is released when we interact closely with our kids. YouTube videos are a cornucopia of the bizarre and everyday ways science comes into our lives. Ever seen popcorn explode in slow motion? Heard about the volcanic reaction between Coke and Mentos but didn’t want to mess up your garden? You’ll find it online, along with infectiously engaging people who are happy to explain it to you.

Ultimately, our own attitudes about science will influence our kid’s engagement with the topic. Ask questions, observe, experiment – these are the foundations of scientific inquiry. Every day we’re experiencing science but may not be aware of its potential to spark new avenues of curiosity in children. Take the time to share with your child. Perhaps then the next generation will be even better equipped to passionately explore new solutions to old problems, encouraged by the simple question, “Hey, sweetheart, why do you suppose the water goes down the drain in a clockwise direction?”

For more information on easy ways to engage your child in science, here is just one of many articles you can find online.


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