Helping Your Child Learn Science - The Basics
What Is Science?
Science is not just a collection of facts. Facts are a part of
science. We all need to know some basic scientific information: water
freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit (or 0 degrees celsius), and the earth
moves around the sun. But science is much more. It includes:
- Observing what's happening;
- Predicting what might happen;
- Testing predictions under controlled conditions to see if they are
- Trying to make sense of our observations.
Science fiction writer Isaac Asimov describes science as "a way of
thinking," a way to look at the world.
Science also involves trial and error--trying, failing, and trying
again. Science does not provide all the answers. It requires us to be
skeptical so that our scientific "conclusions" can be modified or
changed altogether as we make new discoveries.
Children Have Their Own Ideas
Children develop their own ideas about the physical world, ideas that
reflect their special perspectives. Below are some perceptions from
some sixth grade students:
"Fossils are bones that animals are through wearing."
"Some people can tell what time it is by looking at the sun, but I
have never been able to make out the numbers."
"Gravity is stronger on the earth than on the moon because here on
earth we have a bigger mess."
"A blizzard is when it snows sideways."
Children's experiences help them form their ideas, and these often
don't match current scientific interpretations. We need to allow our
children to ask questions and make mistakes without feeling "stupid."
We can help our children look at things in new ways. For instance, in
regard to the blizzard, we could ask: "Have you ever seen it snow
sideways? What do you think causes it to move sideways sometimes?"
Hands-On Works Best
Children, especially younger ones, learn science best and
understand scientific ideas better if they are able to investigate and
experiment. Hands-on science can also help children think critically
and gain confidence in their own ability to solve problems. Some
science teachers have explained it this way:
What engages very young children? Things they can see, touch,
manipulate, modify; situations that allow them to figure out what
happens--in short, events and puzzles that they can investigate,
which is the very stuff of science.
But, hands-on science can be messy and time consuming. So, before you
get started, see what is involved in an activity--including how long it
Less Is More
It's tempting to try to teach our children just a little about many
While youngsters can't possibly learn everything about science, they do
need and will want to learn many facts. But the best way to help them
learn to think scientifically is to introduce them to just a few topics
Finding the Right Activity for Your Child
Different children have different interests and need different science
projects. A sand and rock collection that was a big hit with an 8-year-old daughter may not be a big hit with a 6-year-old son.
Fortunately, all types of children can find plenty of projects that
are fun. If your child loves to cook, let him or her observe how sugar
melts into caramel syrup or how vinegar curdles milk.
Knowing our children is the best way to find suitable activities. Here
are some tips:
- Encourage activities that are neither too hard nor too easy. If in
doubt, err on the easy side since something too difficult may give
the idea that science itself is too hard.
- Age suggestions on book jackets or toy containers are just that--
suggestions. They may not reflect the interest or ability of your
child. A child who is interested in a subject can often handle
material for a higher age group, while a child who isn't
interested in or hasn't been exposed to the subject may need to
start with something for a younger age group.
- Consider a child's personality and social habits. Some projects
are best done alone, others in a group; some require help, others
require little or no supervision. Solitary activities may bore
some, while group projects may frighten others.
- Select activities appropriate for the child's environment. A
brightly lighted city isn't the best place for star-gazing, for
- Allow your children to help select the activities. If you don't
know whether Sarah would rather collect shells or plant daffodils,
ask her. When she picks something she wants to do, she'll learn
more and have a better time doing it.
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