There’s always one of two reactions when you talk to people about science – they either love it, like I do or they are convinced that they “can’t do science.” Somewhere along the line they lost interest, but more than that they lost confidence.
And I’ll be honest, when I taught, I always had more students (even in those younger grades) that already “hated” science than I had that liked it. I have a number of hypotheses for why this is so, and while I could go on and on about those here, I won’t. Not right now, anyways.
Instead, I’d like to share with you a few tips and tricks to get your little ones doing science, a practical guide, of sorts, to give you, the grown-up, the confidence you need to encourage and support your little scientists.
By giving you a few tools and a few ideas, I’m hoping that we can start these little ones down a lifelong path as a lover and doer of science. Because, truthfully, science is awesome, science is easy, and science is fun. If you do it right.
Little Ones are (already) Scientists
In our house we often joke about how our little ones are constantly doing science to life. Dropping food off the side of the highchair – experimenting with gravity. Splashing in the tub – experimenting with water displacement. Measuring while cooking – experimenting with volume.
And while it is kind of a joke, it is more true than we often think. (and I’m not the only one who thinks so)
Science, at its very core is simply having a question about something, making a guess, testing it out, and then thinking about the results. That’s it.
And that’s what little ones do, all the time and without any intervention from us. And while it does happen, without us, if we step in and offer some guidance ,we can take the science they already do to a whole new level. We can teach them about the habits of mind behind science. We can guide them through the process. We can help them to take that science that they already do one step further.
One of the best ways we can give our little ones a boost – with their science, or really anything they do – is to support them. And to support science in our homes and in the lives of our little ones, all we really need to do is provide them with tools to inspire them, adult guidance when its needed, and the space to explore and investigate topics that are interesting to them.
Practical Steps to Support your Little Scientist
Get Involved. Of course our little ones will do science whether we are involved or not. But when we do get involved, when we jump in and work with them, the experience can be so much richer – for us and them. While little ones will perform the experiments on their own, we can work with them to share with them the tools, the specialized vocabulary and scientific habits by participating alongside.
Let’s look at my water splashing in the bathtub example above. When my little guys are dropping bath toys into the water to make splashes, I know they aren’t necessarily thinking about science, but when I get involved I can guide them that way.
Remember, true science involves a question. So, let’s start there.
Start with a Good Question. There are two things to keep in mind when picking good scientific questions to explore.
1. Start with something they’re interested in. When their interest is piqued, they are ripe for learning. And if you start with their interest, they will be much more invested in the activity and the process.
2. You have to be able to find an answer by testing it out.
Going back to our water splashing example. A question that I might try to guide my little ones towards could be; will the ball make a bigger splash if it is dropped from higher up?
This question definitely fits the requirements. They are interested, since they are already playing in the bathtub and splashing about. And it can be tested, easily.
Think Up a Test. Once you have your question, figure out a way to find the answer. There is one important thing to remember as you help your little one design a test – control the variables. Remember this from high school (or middle school, for that matter)? You can’t go willy-nilly changing a million things throughout the test, otherwise you won’t be able to isolate what you’re looking for.
In the case of our water splashing, we’d want to test it out at two different heights. We’d use it in the same bathtub, with the same ball. We wouldn’t add or empty any water from the tub in between the tests. The only thing that would change is where we drop the ball from. That’s it.
Make a Prediction. Have your little ones take a guess at what they think will happen. Push them to explain their reasoning. Take the chance to really delve in and explore what your little one already knows about the question they seek to answer.
Do It. This should be obvious, of course. Once you have your question and a plan, you’ll want to jump right in and do it. So, test it out with your little one. See what happens. Did you find an answer to your question? Do you need to re-design your test? While testing it out, did any new questions come up?
That, in a nutshell is science. Your kids already do it, everyday. Watch them. Then, jump in and help them take it to the next level.