If it weren’t so sad, I’d laugh out loud every time I hear that schools need to find a way to get more children, especially girls, interested in the sciences. Are you kidding me? All children are scientists. What schools need to do to get children interested in the sciences as they get older is not bore them, or punish them with bad grades, or otherwise, somehow, ruin the science experience for them. Quite simply, schools have all the budding scientists that they need. The elementary schools are chock full of them. Stop turning children off to science. It is impossible for the often heard statement “I hate science” to be true, because the study of science is the study of every single fascinating thing on this planet, or solar system or universe, or possible multiple universes. What the child really means is “I hate what went on in my science class.” Now, that can be true.
Parents, you have the opportunity every day, but especially on weekends, holidays, or summers, to build your scientist at home, one who has the possibility of learning enough science to help make the world a better place and earn a really good income at the same time. I am serious. Sports are great, but are seen by many children as the only avenue to making real money. My advice is to not only run outside to play catch, but carry a couple of magnifying glasses with you for some serious fun afterwards. Parents, you will find that your average three year old, if given the chance to explore things with a magnifying glass, binoculars or telescope, will choose them over playing with a ball 7 out of ten times. This is because these tools have something to offer any child, any real scientist, that the ball can’t and those are moments of jaw-dropping wonder.
A three year old is a natural scientist because every waking moment is filled with new discoveries about the world, the excitement of discovery and the quest for more. They ask four questions all the time: Why, why, why, and occasionally, why? (They will also fight a nap tooth and nail because, heaven forbid, they might miss something.) Adults have been jaded by real life so much that they don’t have many “I can’t believe this” wonder moments in their life anymore, which is at the heart of being a child and a scientist. Providing those wonder moments and then explaining is all you need to create scientists for life.
A case in point was this Fourth of July. I happened to be sitting on the banks of the Apalachicola River in Chattahoochee watching the fireworks go off. A three year old was near me and literally was out of his mind with joy. He was shrieking that he loved fireworks and I fully believed him. This is what an educator would call “a teachable moment.” Why did you hear an echo coming from off of the bridge? (Sound waves.) Why did I see the flash before I heard the boom? (Speed of light.) “What made the rocket shoot up like that?” (Propulsion.) Speaking of propulsion, I taught at a Head Start program for three year olds and taught them “propulsion” in 15 seconds. I blew up a balloon and let it go flying around the room and as they were squealing in delight had them chant “Propulsion, propulsion.” Build a sand castle and have them chant “erosion, erosion” at the top of their lungs as they destroy it with a water hose. They love it, which is the whole point. If a child loves doing something their brain absorbs information at a stunning rate. If a child is thrilled by discovery, they will learn in one minute what they may possibly get out of a textbook in an hour. I remember looking through a microscope at prepared slides of human blood cells, muscle cells and plant cells and was just blown away at both their similarities and differences. As an adult I had a wonder moment when I looked through a telescope in my backyard that a friend had brought over and I marveled at the sight of the rings around Saturn. I could not believe what I was seeing.
So, parents, strike while the iron is hot and the child is young. Turn off the TV, grab that magnifying glass and run outside and stare at bugs, or leaves, or flowers. Point the binoculars at that crazy looking bird. Examine water under a microscope. Point the telescope at the stars. And somebody write a memo to the one percent that there should be public lending “libraries” where ordinary people can check out this equipment on a weekly basis, just like a book. In the meantime, do the best that you can. When your child grows up to invent or discover something important, she will hug you for your efforts when she was small.