At Science With Me! we believe a parent can make a big difference in how a child views science. Seemingly small but crucial acts can spark a child’s desire to know more about the natural world. A word of encouragement, or an attitude of curiosity, may be the tipping point that leads your son or daughter to an early interest in science. Research shows that parental involvement is just as important as the quality of a school in predicting how well children do academically. When parents are supportive, the children do better, regardless of socio-economic status, ethnic background, or the parents’ level of education.
Being a supportive parent is important, but don’t let it stress you out! Children are naturally curious, so parents just need to be positive, encourage questions, and be alert for teaching moments. When a child asks a great question (and they’ll ask plenty), acknowledge how great it is. If your son asks, “What other animals have opposable thumbs besides humans?” (gasp!) or “Why is the sky blue?” Or if your daughter wants to know “What would happen if you could go faster than the speed of light?” show that you’re impressed. After saying, “Wow, that’s a great question,” look it up (even if you happen to know the answer)! Now that half the population has smart phones, many of us can look things up wherever we are. No need to wait until we get home. If you don’t have a smart phone, remember to follow up as soon as you can. Don’t let the spark die! Beyond encouraging great questions, prod your kids to tinker, research, and create their own experiments. Be a model of curiosity yourself. If you approach questions about the natural world with an infectious curiosity and scientific thinking, your child will follow in your footsteps. The most important trait of a scientist is to observe and to research. Other traits, such as developing hypotheses and collecting data are a bit more advanced and you don’t need to incorporate them into your repertoire initially. Many garden-variety questions (no pun intended) — such as, Will the pumpkin seeds from the jack o’lantern grow into a pumpkin? — can easily be investigated by trying things out. Plant a few seeds. You’ll be sending the message to your child that you don’t always need to rely on books or the Internet. Show them that you can find out for yourself, through doing, observing, and connecting the dots. Cooking together can lead to a deeper understanding of boiling points, measurements, and chemical reactions. Gardening teaches biology. Repairing a broken bike can illustrate a few basic principles of physics. All this is foundational scientific training. Take your little scientists to the next level by:
- Going to museums, aquariums, zoos, planetariums, and other centers of science.
- Visiting places of natural interest, such as swamps, waterfalls, canyons, rivers, deserts, or whatever is in your area.
- Watching science shows on TV together. Some good ones are Mythbusters, Bill Nye: The Science Guy, or Nova.
- Engaging in a Science With Me! Activity such as: watching one of our science cartoon animations, coloring one of our superbly illustrated science Coloring Books or reading or singing along with one of our Read-A-Long Storybooks or Songs.
- Borrowing books from the library to deepen an interest that your child has.
Harness your own natural interests for the benefit of your child. If you have a yearning to learn more about quantum mechanics or black holes, do some reading and discuss what you’ve learned with your kid. The more you’re passionate about satisfying your curiosity about the world, the more you’ll fan the flames of curiosity in your children. Be actively involved in your kid’s science program at school. You can do this by:
- Encouraging them to do an extra-credit science project, joining the science club, or going on the after-school science field trip.
- Volunteering to help with a class science project. (Science projects often require lots of set up and teachers are usually grateful for help in cutting, building, gluing, or whatever is required.)
- Understanding what children are expected to learn each year in science.
- Browsing through our Science With Me! archives, sign up for our free activities, or just come back in a few days for a new post.
- Letting your child know that you have high expectations for his or her engagement in science.
There are so many fascinating frontiers in science today that a young person is sure to find great opportunities for advancement. And beyond personal success, as a nation we need up-and-coming scientists to stay competitive in the global economy. Anyway you slice it, an interest in science is a winner.