Many parents worry that they can't answer all of their child's
questions. Not to worry, do the best you can, admit that some
you don't know. If it is a truly important question, offer to try
to find out, and get back to them. But then you had better make a
good effort. It is often appropriate to suggest a source where
child can look for the answer. That can be followed by, "Please
let me know what you find out." Sometimes, "What do you already
that might help you answer that question?" Or, with an older
"How can we find out?", implying learning together as a team.
Much more important than having an answer to all of your
questions, is developing effective skills for finding answers.
YES! this is a key set of
skills in any science.
It is also important to remember that a toddler in the infamous "Why?"
stage, may have little or no interest in the answers. They have
found that by asking "why?", they can continue the interaction with an
adult. The attention is the goal, not information. In such
cases nonsense responses serve the purpose quite well, saving the adult
some effort, and keeping the child content.
There are times when your child will say, "Come see what I found!"
If not too inconvenient, it is usually a good idea to go and
whatever it is. When in the middle of a task which can't easily
be interrupted. "Sorry, I can't come right now" is ok
But if used too often may convince the child that you really are
not interested, that such discoveries are unimportant. And discourages
them from even noticing, let alone reporting such incidents. It
may be possible, without seriously interrupting your work, to provide
time that is also educational.
Child: "Daddy, Daddy, come see what I found in the yard!"
Parent: "Sorry, I'm fixing dinner, and I can't come outside right
now. So, tell me what you found."
C: "It's a big bug."
P: "Oh? How big is it? How big is it? The size
of your little finger? Your thumb?"
C: "I'm not sure."
P: "If it's still there, be careful to not move too fast, or
get too close, you don't want to scare it away. See just how big
C: returning "It's this big."
P: "I see. That is big for a bug. How many legs does
C: back again "It has six legs."
P: "If it has six legs, it must be an insect. What color is
C: after going for another look "It's green and brown."
P: "Which parts are green and which brown?"
Further questions suitable to age and skill level of the child, and to
the available time, are limited only by the resourcefullness of the
With the child most likely making another trip to find the answer to
each question, this could go on for an extended period without
the parent being directly involved for much of it. This is
time. It also rewards curiosity, while developing observation,
improving ability to describe and report.
I once had a student turn in a beautiful display with her project.
While visiting her grand parents, she had the help of a retired
science teacher. The project was on observations of house
sparrows. The display contained photos, preserved specimens, and
was well designed. Even though the recorded observations didn't
amount to much, I expect many science teachers would have given her
rave reviews and highest grades. I asked one question.
"Where would I have to go if I wanted to see a house
sparrow?" She said, "I suppose you would have to go to Redlands."
town where her grand parents live.) It just never entered her
that the birds which had been making such a mess above her locker might
house sparrows. I opened the door and pointed at the nearest
sparrow, "What kind of bird is that?" Looking at it intently, she
"I don't know."
Start at the earliest age, by setting an example. Whether in the
car, walking, standing in line, wherever, make a point of drawing their
attention to things of small interest.
"Oh look, there's the moon." I find that many teenagers are not
aware that the moon is often visible in the day time sky.
"Look at this beautiful flower. I wonder what kind it is."
Of course if you happen to know, you would name it.
"Hear that mockingbird which is imitating a car alarm?"
I have noticed, people pointing out an animal to a small child don't
say, "see the mammal." But, "See the dog", or "See the cow", or
the bear." Yet, mostly they don't say, "See the sparrow",
or "See the mockingbird", or "See the crow". But they say, "See
bird." Really! it is not hard to learn to name the most common
birds, butterflies, etc. (One place you could start is the web
" Back Yard Biology
For more ideas see "Back
Yard Botany: Simple Beginnings
Awareness of geography:
An understanding of geography is important to life in general, and also
in science. As a start I recommend that you keep a globe of Earth
handy. It doesn't have to be large or fancy, I find a 4 inch
globe works well. When the news is about a natural disaster,
point out the location on the globe. Even if a child is too young
to completely understand, each example makes an significant impression,
even when it seems otherwise. (just don't push hard for immediate
understanding, it will come.) Are you discussing gorillas?
Point to the place where they live. A TV show about the
Amazon? Point to it on the globe.
Taking the family on a trip? Show the kids your route on a
map. It doesn't matter whether it be a long or short trip.
I have included an online game called Global Navigator on the game page
. Playing this game will develop
familiarity with the names of countries and their capitols, as well as
their locations on Earth. I expect most kids will find it much
more fun than the old memorization drill.
Awareness of their body:
An understanding of their own anatomy is important is important in
developing a healthy life style, as well as an entry into
biology. For this reason I have included an online game called
Body Parts on the game page
. It is not
very detailed or precise, but it is a good beginning. And
hopefully it's fun.
Developing Science Skills
The only way to develop skills is to use them, in other words,
practice. The more practice the better. However, the skills used
in science need not always be practiced in the context of
science. On the game page, I have included some online games that
are useful for developing science skills.
is a variation of the table game Memory. The table game has the
advantage of shared experience, and I recommend it for family
time. The online game has the advantage that it does not require
finding someone else willing to play. In either case, it develops
skill in pattern recognition and comparison. Skills used in such
things as identifying a bird by looking in a field guide. These are
also important parts of classification skills.
is a game that requires observation skills. It also needs the use
of logic to get isolated blocks together so they can be removed.
Also, the larger the group, the higher the score when it is removed.
at first glance might not seem an appropriate game to teach science
skills. However, it requires the player to rearrange bits of data
in order to discover patterns which were not obvious in the original
presentation. This is the way scientific theories come into
being. It is a critical part of creative ability. That it
develops vocabulary and spelling at the same time is just a bonus.