ERIC Identifier: ED372952
Publication Date: 1994-06-00
Author: Rillero, Peter
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Science Mathematics and Environmental Education Columbus OH.
Doing Science with Your Children. ERIC/CSMEE Digest.
He did not speak until he was three, and when he could talk, choosing words
was difficult. His frequent angry outbursts occasionally turned violent. As you
might expect, he did poorly in school and his teachers predicted that he would
amount to "nothing good." But when taught how to make buildings from playing
cards, he spent countless hours at it, constructing some structures 14 stories
high. He also enjoyed making jigsaw puzzles and constructing buildings from
prefabricated blocks. By the age of 10, his skill in building elaborate
structures was recognized, and at age 15 he was put into a special school that
stressed learning through observation and doing. These early experiences,
combined with his unique intellectual gifts, helped this young man--Albert
Einstein--to become one of the most creative scientists ever to expand our
knowledge of the world.
THE MEANING OF SCIENCE
You do not need to be an Einstein to
value and use science. Most of us grew up believing that science is an organized
collection of facts. However, science is better defined as a way of observing
and thinking about the world, and communicating these thoughts to others.
Experience and research show that young children are excited about science when
they are given the chance to "do" science. To give your children a firm
foundation in science they should be encouraged to think about and interact with
the world around them. Concrete experiences that require the use of children's
senses, such as planting and watching a seed germinate, provide a strong
framework for abstract thinking later in life.
Many skills that help your children succeed in science also help in everyday
life. Observing, inferring, measuring, communicating, classifying, predicting,
controlling variables, interpreting data, and developing models are important
science process skills recently identified by the National Science Teachers
Association. These skills are not just essential for careers in science, but
they are important for almost any career, as well as in daily life.
WHEN SHOULD SCIENCE INSTRUCTION BEGIN?
As a parent, you are
your children's first and most influential teacher. The best time to introduce
children to science is when they are curious about the world around them. From
their first moments of consciousness, children are on a passionate quest to
understand their world. Placing interesting mobiles over your child's crib helps
focus the infant's attention, spurring the development of observation skills. As
children mature, they naturally become more curious about their environment and
begin to interact with their surroundings. From simply touching things with
their hands, feet, or mouth, they progress to moving objects, twirling spinners,
and dropping food from the high chair to enjoy the effects these actions
Science in the early years should be an extension of these natural behaviors.
Rich sensory experiences (seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, and smelling) can
help children become more observant and curious. Exploring the characteristics
of objects and living things can help them learn how to classify or group things
based on their characteristics. By playfully interacting with their environment,
children understand how they are distinct from the world around them and how
they can influence aspects of it. Science begins for children when they discover
that they can learn about the world through their own actions, such as blowing
soap bubbles, adding a block that causes a structure to collapse, or refracting
light through a prism. A child best learns to swim by getting into the water;
likewise, a child best learns science by doing science. Hands-on science
experiences, together with conversations about what is occurring, are the best
method for developing children's science process skills. These experiences go
beyond improving science skills to improving reading skills, language skills,
creativity, and attitudes toward science. Fortunately, these hands-on science
experiences are ones that most children enjoy.
SCIENCE AROUND THE HOME AND COMMUNITY
There are many
activities you can do with your children to help them develop skills related to
science. Opportunities for positive science experiences can be found in
kitchens, yards, parks, science museums, beaches, nature centers, and even toy
boxes. While many aspects of science can be very intricate and intellectually
demanding, it is important to remember that often the simplest experiences may
produce the most profound learning.
Some general guidelines can help you do science with your children:
Introduce your children to stimulating environments. Oceans, swamps, parks,
airports, and even kitchens, bathrooms, and backyards offer chances for
observing and discussing science. Provide your children with situations that
encourage playful exploration, a natural way for children to learn. Toys can be
an important part of a stimulating environment. A child's intellectual and
social development is not related to the number of toys or materials present,
but to the kind of toys and materials. Children develop better skills if their
toys are varied and educational. The more things a child can do with a toy, the
more likely it is to be educational. Children can engage in many creative,
constructive, and thought-provoking activities with toy building materials, for
Become interested in your children's science interests. Identify aspects of
science that your children enjoy. Fuel these fires. Talk to your children about
their science interests and encourage their efforts. If they are intrigued by
dinosaurs, read dinosaur books, discuss dinosaurs, construct dinosaur models,
and visit museums to see dinosaur fossils and models. Your understanding of your
children's interests and abilities will help you personalize their learning
Seize the teachable moments. Your child sees a beautiful tulip flower in the
spring and asks about it. Use that opportunity to discuss flowers and bulbs. You
can follow up by planting bulbs or flower seeds in the garden or in the house
and watching them grow. The home environment is familiar to your children and
fosters teachable moments that classroom teachers can only dream about; you can
use these teachable moments to help your children become fascinated with
Provide hands-on experiences. Give children the chance to "do" science. Use the
aforementioned suggestions as a starting point for further hands-on exploration
of a scientific concept. Not only are hands-on experiences a great way to learn,
but they are also a great way to get children excited about science. The
resource list at the end of this digest contains many ideas for intriguing
science activities. The best way to tell if an activity is appropriate for a
child is to see if the child is interested while doing it. Activities should
challenge, but not overly frustrate. If your child does not seem interested in
doing a particular activity, suggest another one, or try it again at another
time. Keep children's natural yearning for learning burning by not forcing them
to do something they are not interested in doing, but by engaging them in
Share your science interests. If you have a science-related job or hobby, such
as keeping a fish tank, repairing cars, or feeding birds, share the excitement.
Nothing is as contagious as honest enthusiasm. Do activities together.
Bridge from the media. Movies, television specials, magazines, newspapers,
books, and computer programs frequently present science-related topics (see
resource list). Talk with your children about the science they encounter: What
interested them? What did they learn? Older students may enjoy discussing
whether the science presented in science fiction stories was real or fictional.
For example, could a space traveler hear the whoosh of a space craft as it
passed by in space? Answer: In outer space there is a vacuum. Since sound waves
cannot travel in a vacuum, space travelers would never hear the sound of a space
craft as it passed by them.
Set aside time for discussion. One of the key components of all the previous
guidelines is discussion--a powerful tool for making children think and refocus
their ideas. Doing one activity with discussion--either before, during, or after
the experience--is better than doing four activities with no discussion. In
fact, a powerful predictor for determining whether a child will attend college
is whether or not the family eats dinner together in a setting that promotes
discussion. Encourage your children to talk at dinner, on outings, and during
activities. Through the effort to communicate, children are forced to construct
thoughts, form concepts, and examine interrelationships among ideas. The measure
of a good discussion is not how much an adult explains to a child, but how much
the child is induced to think.
SCIENCE CONNECTIONS: HOME AND SCHOOL
Research on families
and student learning has shown that students at all grade levels do better work
in school, feel better about themselves as learners, set higher goals, and dream
bigger dreams when their parents are knowledgeable, supportive, encouraging, and
involved with their education. Parent involvement in education can take a
variety of forms, including volunteering to help in the school, doing a
presentation for a class, helping chaperone field trips, and supplying
materials. The most important type of involvement, however, is encouraging,
monitoring, and helping your children with their schoolwork. When parents and
schools work together, children grow in an environment of consistent
expectations and shared purpose, where children become better students, and
parents become better teachers.
Helping your children acquire skills for
understanding the world will enhance their success in science. Being excited
about your children's science interests and schoolwork can promote further
growth and quests for knowledge. Exposing children to your science-related
interests, providing hands-on opportunities for building and exploring, and
using experiences as a springboard for discussion are powerful methods for
helping children develop process skills and enthusiasm for science. The skills
your children develop will be important no matter what careers they pursue. The
shared science experiences in which you and your children participate will
create wonderful memories to last a lifetime.
SCIENCE EDUCATION RESOURCES FOR FAMILIES
The following items have been selected from a longer annotated bibliography
of science education resource materials available for $1.95 from ERIC/CSMEE,
1929 Kenny Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1080. Sources of Science Activities
Baldwin, M. K. (1992). Birds, Bats, and Butterflies [Leaflets for adults who
want to share nature with children, Nos. 1-4]. Jamestown, NY: Roger Tory
Peterson Institute of Natural History. (ED 347 036)
Bring Out the Scientist in Your Child. (1992, March). PTA Today, 17(5),
Cassidy, J. (1991). Explorabook: A Kids' Science Museum in a Book. Palo Alto,
CA: Klutz Press.
Fredericks, A. D., & Asimov, I. (1990). The Complete Science Fair
Handbook [For teachers and parents of students in grades 4-8]. Glenview, IL:
Good Year Books. (ED 317 373)
Kneidel, S. S. (1993). Creepy Crawlies and the Scientific Method. Golden, CO:
Mack, T. (1993, April). Sowing Lessons: The Many Ways That Gardening Helps
Kids Grow. Sesame Street Parents' Guide, pp. 16-17.
Munsart, C. A. (1993). Investigating Science With Dinosaurs. Boulder, CO:
Teacher Ideas Press.
NASA. (1992). Earth's Mysterious Atmosphere, Atlas 1 [Teacher's Guide with
activities for use with middle-school students, EP-282/11-91]. See NASA
information below. (ED 361 167)
NASA. (1993). Space Station Freedom [An activity book for elementary school
students, PED-128]. See NASA information below. (ED 364 420)
Paulu, N. (1992). Helping Your Child Learn Science. Washington, DC: Office of
Educational Research and Improvement. (ED 330 584)
Perry, S. K. (1993, September). Discovery [Instructions for making kites,
paper airplanes, and parachutes]. Parenting, pp. 161-164.
Walker, R. (1992). Nature Projects on File [Experiments, demonstrations, and
projects for school and home]. New York: Facts-On-File.
Reading, Computer, Video, and TV Resources in Science
Brody, H. (1993, December). Video Games That Teach? Technology Review, 96(8),
Club Kidsoft is a magazine and CD-ROM that features a buyer's guide for major
software publishers, plus demonstrations of software. $9.95 for first four
CRO is a television cartoon series featuring simple science ideas woven into
clever stories. Saturdays at noon on ABC.
Dybdahl, C. S., & Shaw, D. G. (1993, Summer). It's More Than Reading a
Book. Science Activities, 30(2), 34-39.
Jones, M., Jr. (1993, November 22). Kid's Lit's Growing Pains. Newsweek, pp.
Karasick, J. C., and others. (1994, March). Outstanding Science Trade Books
for Children for 1994. Science and Children, 31(6), 30-37.
Schon, I. (1994, March). Libros de Ciencia en Espanol. Science and Children,
Schwartz, B. (1993, December 16). Programs to Play Into Young Imaginations.
USA Today, p. 4D.
Sokol-Margolis, R. (1993, December). Science Class Was Never Like This:
"Quarky & Quaysoo's Turbo Science." Technology Review, 96(8), 74-76.
INFORMATION ON PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT
Bradley, B. (1993, September). How to Raise Smart Kids. Parenting, pp. 66-71.
Campbell, P. B. (1992). Math, Science, and Your Daughter: What Can Parents
Do? Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education. (ED 350 172)
Carrasquillo, A. L., & London, C. B. G. (1993). Parents and Schools: A
Source Book. New York: Garland Publishing.
Get Into the Equation: Math and Science, Parents and Children. (1987). New
York: College Board. (ED 295 785)
Howley, C. (1991). The World According to Science: Think About It.
Charleston, WV: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools. (ED 332
Lara, A. (1993, September). Homework: How to End the Struggle. Parenting, pp.
NASA materials are free and available to parents from (1) NASA Teacher
Resource Center; Mail Stop 8-1; NASA Lewis Research Center; 2100 Brookpark Road;
Cleveland, OH 44135; (2) NASA Teacher Resource Laboratory; Mail Code 130-3; NASA
Goddard Space Flight Center; Greenbelt, MD 20771; or (3) your nearest regional
NASA Teacher Resource Center.