Helping children engage in the world of science can be daunting. Many parents feel they dont know enough about science to help their children at all. Those who do know the world of science may be confused about how to help young children learn about complex concepts. A common question from adults is, How can I explain such a hard concept in a simple enough way for my child to understand?
Explanations Do Not Always Help
Explanations, even simple ones, do not always help children (or adults, for that matter!) understand complex ideas. So whats a parent to do? The simple answer is to worry less about explaining to your child, and spend more time modeling the fun of science: going on walks, mixing things, testing to see what will happen, observing carefully and wondering along with your child.
Science Is About Trying to Make Sense of the World
Science is not simply about knowing informationit is equally a way of trying to make sense of the world. Scientists must ask questions, design investigations, try to make sense of the information they have gathered during the investigations, and communicate and defend their thinking to others. They dont always find the answers to their questions, and they dont always agree.
Help Children Think Like Scientists
It is much more important for parents to help children develop the skills they need to think like scientists than to help them understand complex scientific concepts. Even the youngest children are quite capable of beginning to build these skills.
A Few Pointers
Here are a few pointers to keep in mind as you enjoy science alongside your child:
- You dont need to have answers for all of your childs questions! Encourage your child to develop his own science thinking skills.
- Listen carefully to your child. Engage her in conversation about what she thinks, and encourage her to explain why she thinks as she does by asking questions such as, Why do you think the snail is eating that leaf?
- Dont immediately correct your child. If your child says something scientifically incorrect, help her discover for herself what is correct rather than correcting her. For example, if she says heavy things sink, you can ask her, Which heavy things have you seen sink? Or, I wonder if we can find something heavy that can float?
- Model curiosity. Wonder aloud: I wonder what will happen to this pudding mix when we put the water in?
- Children develop at different rates. Keep this in mind as you do science activities with your child, including those in this section. The activities suggested for various ages are intended to be followed generally, not strictly. Children develop at different rates, so not all will fit neatly into a specific age category.
Building Language at Different Stages of Development
Many of the activities for Infants and Toddlers will principally involve building language. As you describe and name interesting phenomena, your child will be exposed to a rich variety of new words. Your Preschooler/Kindergartner usually is developmentally capable to physically engage with things on his own, and has gained some facility with language to begin to describe and discuss his experiences. The First Grader/Reader-Writer is better able to record her experiences and make some predictions based on her extra years of experience. This is your chance to help your child explore the world of science by engaging in some exciting and fun investigations together!
This article is from the "Exploring Science with Kids" section of the PBS Parents website.