Kids are natural scientists. They love to explore their world and, given the opportunity, will create their own experiments – some welcome, some…less welcome. (What happens if I flush A LOT of toilet paper down the toilet? How about these crayons? Will they flush?) As it turns out, the curiosity-driven science experiments that kids do in their early years can make a big difference in their skill development and understanding of how the world works.
When kids play with water in the sink, when they help with cooking projects, when they pour sand into a funnel – this is active science learning. More specifically, it’s early chemistry and physics learning. But research shows that curiosity alone is not enough to help children develop skills and understand concepts about the physical world. Why? Because kids tend to develop theories about why things work – which is wonderful – except that their theories may not be correct. Adult guidance is essential for giving children opportunities to explore AND for helping children understand why things happen.
So what does this adult guidance look like? Here are a few tips for fostering your little scientist:
- Set up an environment that promotes experimentation with various materials. Try allowing water play in the sink while you prepare dinner. Make a simple dough together and see what happens when the liquid and solid mix.
- Encourage your child to make predictions: What do you think would happen to this dough if we added more water? Let’s find out.
- Ask your child to describe what’s happening: What does that feel like? Older children can draw what they see.
- Encourage the making of theories: Why do you think that happened? Congratulate them on doing a good job thinking about it, even if their theories are incorrect.
- Provide accurate information. After your child has created a theory, provide the correct information. Even better, help them set up a new experiment to help them test their theory.
- Show them how to use books and the internet to research the answers to scientific questions.
One of the best things about raising kids is that WE get to be curious and explore the world again through new eyes. Once you start encouraging this type of science exploration and the making of theories, you’ll find yourself becoming really excited about making new discoveries too!
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