Helping Your Child Learn Science - Introduction

Introduction

Why is the sky blue?
Why do things fall to the ground?
How do seeds grow?
What makes sound and music?
Where do mountains come from?

Young children ask their parents hundreds of questions like these. In search of answers, we use science to both enlighten and delight.

As parents, we must prepare our children for a world vastly different from the one in which we grew up. In the next century, the world will need citizens with more training in science and technology than most of us had in school.

Even children who don't want to be scientists, engineers, or computer technicians will need science to cope with their rapidly changing environment. But without our help, our children will not be prepared for these changes. Most importantly, science education can increase the wonder and understanding our children have of life.

This web site suggests ways you can interest your children from about 3 to 10 years old in science. It includes:

Many of the activities cost little or nothing and require no special equipment.

Science Starts at Home

We play a crucial role in determining how much science our children learn. Our enthusiasm and encouragement can spark their interest. Fortunately, youngsters of all ages are curious and love to investigate. And the earlier we encourage this curiosity, the better.

Scientific knowledge is cumulative, so children need to start learning early--at home. Many of us assume that children will learn all the science they need at school. The fact is that most children, particularly in elementary school, are taught very little science.

How You Can Help

As parents, we don't have to have a strong background in science to help our children learn science. What's far more important than knowing what sound is or how a telescope works, is having a positive attitude about science.

Every day is filled with opportunities to learn science--without expensive chemistry sets or books. Children can easily be introduced to the natural world and encouraged to observe what goes on around them.

Together, parents and children can--

Learning to observe objects carefully is an important step leading to scientific explanations. Experiencing the world together and exchanging information about what we see are important, too.

A nasty head cold can even be turned into a chance to learn science. We can point out that there is no known cure for a cold, but that we do know how diseases are passed from person to person. Or we can teach some ways to stay healthy--such as washing our hands, not sharing forks, spoons, or glasses, and covering our nose and mouth when we sneeze or cough.

Questioning and Listening

We should encourage our children to ask questions. A friend once asked Isidor I. Rabi, a Nobel prize winner in physics, "Why did you become a scientist, rather than a doctor or lawyer or businessman, like the other immigrant kids in your neighborhood?" Rabi responded:

My mother made me a scientist without ever intending it. Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school: "So? Did you learn anything today?" But not my mother. She always asked me a different question. "Izzy," she would say, "did you ask a good question today?" That difference--asking good questions--made me become a scientist!

If we can't answer all of our children's questions, that's all right--no one has all the answers, even scientists. And children don't need lengthy, detailed answers to all of their questions. We can propose answers, test them out, and check them with someone else. The library, or even the dictionary, can help answer questions.

We can also encourage our children to tell us their ideas and listen to their explanations. Being listened to will help them to gain confidence in their thinking and to develop their skills and interest in science. Listening helps us to determine just what children know and don't know. (It also helps the child figure out what he or she knows.)

Simple activities can help to demystify science--and we will suggest some of these later. But children also need to learn some basic information about science and about how to think scientifically. The following section contains information for parents that can point our children toward this goal.

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