Friday, July 1, 2016

My daughter is turning 10 this fall. Ever since she was in preschool, she wanted to be an engineer or a scientist - currently she is divided between neuroscience and astronomy. I love her enthusiasm about all things science and want to share a few tips on guiding little scientists from the cradle all the way through elementary school.
Raising Kids Who Love Science

1. Create a Safe Environment for Early Exploration

Babies are born scientists. They learn everything through experimentation, and they watch us to see how we react to their attempts to comprehend the world around them through interacting with objects and living creatures. Setting up a safe environment and encouraging such exploration is the very first step in raising scientists. And keep talking to them from day one describing everything in as much detail as you can. They understand more than you think, and it matters more than you might know.

2. Encourage Sensory Play

Children explore through their senses. One of my biggest regrets from my daughter's early childhood is that we did not provide her with more chances to engage in unstructured messy play. Don't miss this early opportunity and set up one of these sensory bins for your toddlers to allow them experiment on their terms and engage more than one sense in their journey to science.

3. Answer Preschoolers' Why Questions, But...

Learning to talk is such an exciting milestone. Ages 2-4 is the age of "why" questions. Do not ignore these questions. Answer to the best of your ability, but be ready to admit that you don't know everything. Seeing an adult enthusiastically researching the answers models the quest for lifelong learning. If your child keeps asking the same question, turn it around and ask him or her what they think. When they attempt to summarize their opinion, it helps not only in developing their ability to reason but also builds up their vocabulary and language skills.

4. Go on Science Field Trips Early and Often

Any trip can incorporate some science in it, but trips to science museums, aquariums, and zoos are priceless. Young preschoolers can see that our society values science and that we work to understand and preserve our world. They also get to see for real and even perhaps touch things that they only saw in books and on TV.

5. Do Classic Science Experiments... More Than Once

Mixing vinegar and baking soda might sound boring to you, but it's infinitely amazing to preschool and early elementary school scientists. The Measured Mom has a great list of simple science experiments for preschoolers, and you are welcome to check out and follow my Preschool Science Pinterest board.

6. Surround Your Children with Science Books

Ever since our daughter was a young toddler, we were reading non-fiction books to her. She went through a period in preschool when fiction stories seemed too intense to her, and she was interested exclusively in fact books. It changed as she grew older and was able to firmly separate facts and fantasy in her mind. She now devours fantasy books, but she also picks non-fiction books from the library, especially in the area of her interests, primarily space and brain development. What kind of books could you pick for your little scientists?
Preschool science should be fun, but, as children get older, they should get a more realistic picture of what scientists do. Formulating a hypothesis, setting up an experiment, recording and presenting data might be somewhat less exciting than mixing random things up, but children who are 6+ might be ready for more rigorous approach to science. They might also be interested in starting their own science journal and connecting science to writing.

8. Encourage Them to Practice Mindful Observation

We are all familiar with an image of an absent-minded scientist, but good scientists are keenly aware and attuned to the natural world in the area of their specialization. Since most children are not quite ready to "specialize" yet, encourage them to slow down and observe the world - possibly through a formal nature study, scavenger hunts, sketch book activities, or photography.

9. Challenge Kids to Think for Themselves

Books with science experiments are great, but they have an unfortunate tendency to tell kids what to do, how to do it, and even sometimes explain what happens. I think that Smarty learned more of science from open-ended "science challenges" that we had over years. Here are some of them:
If I were homeschooling, I would not buy a science curriculum. Instead, I would follow my child's interests the way we do it now. Over time, some of those interests (for example, dinosaurs) came and went, but some are burning bright with a fire of true passion. Some subjects (say, chemistry or electronics) lend themselves better to hands-on projects, while some, like Smarty's passion of space are better served with field trips, TV documentaries, books, and computer research. My personal goal for the next few years of my daughter's life is to move firmly from serving information and offering activities to supporting her personal quest for knowledge and eventually her choice of career. I would be thrilled if she chose a STEM career, because science makes her so happy and engaged in what she is doing. Only time will tell :)

Your Turn

10 tips on raising kids who love science and dream be scientists

How do you support your children's interest in science?

Supporting Kids With Passion in Science

This post is part of All Things Science blog hop organized by Hoagies Gifted. Check Hoagies Gifted website and follow Hoagies Gifted on Facebook.

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An Almost Unschooling Mom said...

Those are good steps for a number of subjects! I might add - don't forget the math (not a problem for Smarty). As children reach high school level science a firm understanding of mathematic principles becomes essential. Love the toddler pics - she was so cute :)

Anonymous said...

Smarty and my D. had the same playmat :D Great post! My kids want to work with animals in the future, so science is very important for that. We are doing most of the points form your list (I really suck at experiments at home though, so co-op to the rescue ;D).

Cait Fitz @ My Little Poppies said...

Wonderful list of tips! I enjoyed the photos, too!

Sandra Williams said...

It is important to PLAY at math, and it is important to internalize basic math facts, as well. Students who have to stop and think about multiplication facts do not enjoy fractions, for instance. Playing at math involves patterns, also games such as chess and Muggins. I love the Magic School Bus videos, btw.

Kate Bregovic said...

Great post!

Parker Edward said...

Incredible post.