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Arts and Enrichment

How Not to Blind Your Kids with Science

Learning Adventures in Science Abound

October 01, 2009
For the past decade or so teachers have been making do with fewer material resources and less time, making hands-on science activities in the classroom few and far between. It's up to us parents to make sure kids understand that science matters. That it's fun. That it's well within their ability to grasp. That it's about asking questions, taking risks, trusting yourself. That it's more than a class.

The good news is there are resources available to help us supplement our kids' academic experiences. It's not scary and doesn't require any one of us to be brain surgeons. In fact, I recently learned from a teacher that often the children who succeed are the ones whose parents are simply involved - regardless of how clever the parents are (phew!). It comes down to their being involved and simply caring that their children do well.

If you care that your child furthers his or her interest in science, then read on for a few tips I've garnered from chatting with area science-minded museums like WonderLab in Bloomington, Ind.

Support learning in the home. Make learning something that is normal, something that everybody in the family does. Parents read with your kids. Try new things as a family. Go to museums. Make learning a part of everyday life.

Provide experiences where kids can explore phenomena even if they get messy doing it. "My child would make potions and go around the house collecting stuff like lipstick, baby powder, baking soda. She would get a bowl and mix things together. It was an incredible mess, but I stood back and said that this really is chemistry. As much as parents can, embrace that kind of messy play because it is almost always about experimenting with substances, volumes and amounts," says Karen Jepson-Innes, WonderLab's associate executive director.

She also makes the point that the progression of science doesn't always proceed in a linear way, but happens when kids explore phenomena or a set of materials. For example, she points to a fog table exhibit at the museum that kids explore in various ways. They can watch it, blow on it to see the effect or put a hand on it to see what it feels like. In other words, there are many ways to approach the exhibit and "no one is telling you to push a button to see what happens."

Diane Robbins, community relations marketing manager of kidscommons Children's Museum in Columbus, Ind., thinks along these same lines. "We try to make science a fun, exciting hands-on experiment so they are not intimidated. It makes them think about what science is and how it impacts their everyday life."

Be curious. Sure, you may want to squash that bug that is crawling up the wall, but what if you instead looked at it and talked about it with your kids? Or just take the time to see the ants on the sidewalk. "Look at everyday occurrences with a scientific eye. Look at what goes on around you and oftentimes it's a component of science that you are experiencing but just don't realize it," adds Robbins.

Facilitate discovery. Ask questions that encourage further exploration. Instead of asking "how" or "why" questions, ask "What do you think will happen if you try this now?"

"We certainly provide science content like information about animals and how an exhibit works, but most importantly what we provide are opportunities, experiences for visitors to just mess around with stuff. That's an image I really love because I've heard a lot of scientists say that's the way they do research. In their most creative moments, they just kind of play," says Jepson-Innes.

Make it relevant. Make a connection between the activity or exhibit and your child's world. Help your child develop an appreciation for science as a tool that helps people understand the world.

If you are looking for a few science-focused activities to do with your kids this month, you might want to check out kidscommons' Earth Science Week Oct. 13 - 17 or the Real Life Science: Examining Medical Careers at WonderLab on Oct. 10; all great opportunities for introducing your children to science in fun, topical ways.

Carrie Bishop is a freelance writer for Indy's Child.

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