What comes to mind when you think of science or scientists? I’d be willing to bet that a white lab-coated, safety-glasses wearing person flashed into your mind! It’s easy to have that idea firm in our minds when it comes to our children and science. The simple truth of where these scientists began their humble roots is where all our children start – with a curiosity for the natural world and a desire to understand. A love of science learning starts young and never stops developing. In this article, I cover a few ways you can foster a love for science in your young scientists and to dispel the myth that you need a lab coat to do that (although they are pretty fun!).
The ability to consider what we are faced with critically is of great importance in all areas of life, regardless of age.
We want to develop their curiosity, to ask the question ‘why?’ and really mean it when they do. There’s a reason that young children ask ‘why’ so much. As they begin to grapple with what they perceive with their senses, they want to understand why things are the way they are. This can sometimes leave us feeling caught in the headlights, especially when we don’t know the answer. However, this allows for fantastic conversations where we acknowledge we don’t know but begin to question where and how we can find the answers we’re after.
When I was a primary teacher, my students would sometimes stare at the focus of an enquiry, not knowing how to engage with it, what to record or say. They felt like there was a right answer expected of them. As shapers of young minds, we can help them with this by simply asking them to ‘say what they can sense’. What can you see? What’s changing? What can you smell? What differences were there?
Wanting to know or provide the right answer is such a driver with adults that we can fall into the trap of making a question a tick box – requiring a binary, yes or no type of answer. If we want to grow that scientific way of approaching the world, adjusting the way we phrase our questions makes an enormous difference. For example, rather than asking ‘Which car was faster?’ you might ask, ‘What difference did you spot between the cars?’ Not only does this put the ball back in the child’s court to answer the question thoughtfully, you’ll find out very quickly just what caught their eye. It may well not be what you first thought!
You can expand this easily into problem solving in general, asking how you can test a hypothesis like ‘all objects sink’, encouraging them to suggest toys or materials to choose, what apparatus they think they’ll need and what we’ll be looking for. This also allows you the opportunity to guide their thinking process, question why they’re making the choices they are and allowing them to explore and analyse openly.
Depth, not breadth
It’s tempting to want to cover all manner of science under the sun (and outer space!) and to move on as soon as they’ve finger-grasped a new concept or idea. In truth, this is a position I think educators often find themselves in with the pressures to cover a broad curriculum. In research carried out in 2009 (Schwartz et al 2009), the researchers found that students who covered at least one scientific topic in depth achieved higher in literacy, numeracy, and science.
Taking the time to dig deeper into an area of scientific interest, be it the variation in daisies or the movement of the planets, following the questions your children have, we train them to ask the deeper questions and foster a hunger to understand something better, not just enough.
Good buildings need firm foundations
As with all skills, if we want our children to grow up with firm foundations in scientific thinking, we need to help lay those first bricks and then build on what they already know. Modelling questions like, ‘Why do you think that happens…’ or ‘How does it do that?’ help to foster an openness to understanding and a curiosity. Watching what they’re engaged with, whether it’s the way water reflects off puddles in the wind, the colours of flowers in the park or a ladybird perched on their finger; gives you nearly infinite opportunities to tap into their world and what’s grabbing their attention. On the flip side, if you see something that they may find interesting, invite them into your observation and share it with them. It models a curious mindset and shows that science if often accompanied by a reaction of, simply, wow!
Fostering critical thinking, engaging open-endedly with the world, digging deeper and building on good foundations all help to foster a love for science and help prepare children of all ages for the challenges they’ll face in the future. What have you been curious about today?
Teaching critical thinking – https://www.parentingscience.com/teaching-critical-thinking.html
Preschool science activities – https://www.parentingscience.com/preschool-science-activities.html
Schwartz MS, Sadler PM, Sonnert G, and Tai RH. 2008. Depth versus breadth: How content coverage in high school science courses relates to later success in college science coursework. Science Education 93(5): 798-826.
About the author
Here’s a fun STEM experiment from Tim to try at home. For more cool ideas, subscribe to Tim’s YouTube channel. Keep up the STEM learning! Read more from Tim on how to nurture a coding mindset at home, and download our free science learning activity sheets.