Children ask many questions and they frequently ask the same ones over and over again. Left to their own devices you’ll find them experimenting, examining, and exploring the world around them. They are full of curiosity, wanting to see how electronics work, taking things apart and putting them back together in new ways. They are collectors of nests, bugs, rocks and other prizes from the natural world. Children are natural-born scientists.
Unfortunately, the intense focus on math and reading in our schools has crowded out time for many subjects including the sciences, particularly at the elementary and middle school levels. If your child is lucky, she’ll have a teacher who is excited about science and can find a way to creatively work the subject into the instructional day. Funding though, may limit the amount of training that the teacher ideally needs, as well as creating a sad lack of resources to lead experiments and provide other science related experiences.
Listed below are activities parents can partake in with their children to enrich their scientific experiences and encourage their curiosity.
1. Rainy or wintry days are perfect for a visit to a science museum. Move slowly through the museum, ask questions, and take advantage of hands-on opportunities. Follow your children's lead and discover where their interests lie. If your family is going on vacation, do research ahead of time to find a science museum in the area and work a visit into your vacation time.
2. State or national parks can offer everyone a variety of experiences so make a point of exploring these areas. They’re often free too! Outings to zoos, botanical gardens, aquariums, planetariums and farms can also give your children further opportunities to explore. Many offer special classes, camps and workshops, particularly during the summer months, so be sure to check those out.
3. Check with your local YMCA, 4-H group, community recreation center and library to see what offerings are available. Maker’s Groups are also sprouting up everywhere these days so check them out to see if they have special workshops or play days for children and teens.
4. Set an example! Share your own curiosity. Wonder aloud and ask questions. Grab a pair of binoculars, go birding with your children and make a hobby out of identifying and learning about the birds you see on your hikes. Subscribe to National Geographic, National Geographic Kids or Ranger Rick and keep the issues readily available on the coffee table. See an interesting bug in the backyard? Pull out the magnifying glass and let your children have a good close-up look at the colors, body structure and movements of the critter. Take the opportunity to watch a spider weave its web or to see a butterfly emerge from its cocoon.
5. Encourage your teen to play video games! Minecraft is a wildly popular game that helps to pique interest in the science of coding and helps to learn the basics of programming all while building complex worlds with educational add-ons.
A word about stereotypes:
Studies show that in elementary school, just as many girls are excited about and have an interest in science as boys. By the eighth grade, however, boys are twice as likely to be interested in science, math and technology. As a parent there are many ways you can continue to support your daughter's love of science. Encourage her to watch science related shows on television, learn about nature and the world around her and to tinker with computers. Find out what interests her and explore those areas. Introduce your sons and daughters to female doctors, veterinarians, engineers and other scientists. Perhaps invite these women to be a speaker at school, in your child’s Scout troop or other group and lead a fun activity. Make sure to carefully listen when your daughter asks questions and if you don’t know the answer, make that an opportunity for both of you to investigate, explore and learn.
Science is for everyone! We use it every day. Look for family opportunities to explore, question, research, play and discover. You’ll be enhancing your children’s education and giving them a scientific curiosity that will benefit them for a lifetime.