How to make a child scientist

Friday, January 13, 2012

Science is this small word that contains so much knowledge. Science can be about simple things like baking a cake and all the chemistry between its ingredients, or complicated matters like exploring the Universe. Science can be about working on a lab wearing a white coat, or heading to the dirt and digging in. Science is so big, think dinosaurs, and so small, think virus. And yet, sometimes you are able to bottle portions of it in one place, so you can experience the various facets of Science under the same roof.

One of these places is the Thomas Edison laboratory complex in West Orange, NJ. Inside its 3 floors you will find the Chemistry room, the Photography room, the Library, the Workshop, the Music room, the Biology corner, among others. I felt like stepping inside Science, if that is possible, but a vintage Science, the one that only exists in books, and yet the one that placed the foundation to our modern Science.

I always loved Science classes in school, maybe it was because I had a really good teacher, or maybe because I loved making questions. Luke was not as excited about our trip to the Thomas Edison laboratory as I was. Maybe he is still too young for that. Or he just likes the modern science better, like using my netbook. But if there is one thing that he has improved over these last months is the ability to make questions. Why? Why? Why? I can hear it in my dreams, so inoculated it got inside my head!

What makes a scientist is the curiosity to answer all the whys. Luke got the first step in the right direction, maybe a little help and he is all set. So, here are my 10 sips on how to make a scientist (I am the first one that should learn from all these tips!)

  1. Answer your kids whys with another why: Make them think for themselves. Or give part of the answer so they can move from that on. Like: "Why do birds have wings?", with: "Why do you think that birds have wings? And what other things have wings and what do they have in common, like airplanes?" 
  2. Let them dream: If they say that when they grow up they want to visit the moon, don't place a barrier in their way answering that they will probably never be able to visit the moon. Let them dream with visiting the moon, searching for buried treasures, discovering new species, because every scientist also needs to be a dreamer. 
  3. Teach them hard work: "Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration." (Thomas Edison) Small tasks like cleaning up the toys, bringing the dishes to the kitchen, making their beds are more than just getting help around the house. It is about building good work ethics, discipline and realistic achievement. 
  4. Let Science get messy: Mixing vinegar with baking soda is fun, but also messy. Try not to let the messy overcome the fun. Science is messy, unpredictable and surprisingly fun. 
  5. Rocks are free and recyclable: If your kids want to collect rocks, or leaves or any other "dirt" thing out there, let them do it. (as long they won't use the rocks to throw at windows) Stay away from the urge to have only sanitized toys in their room. Nature is dirt, but as much as we all are (think billions of bacteria inside our digestive track!)
  6. Stargaze: One of the losses we have from living in the city is that the only gazing we can do at night is building gazing. The New York skyline is beautiful, but nothing like the stars in a clear night. There are books for kids that teach which stars to look for and they can try to find the shapes the stars make in the sky. 
  7. Watch Sid the Science Kid (on PBS or Netflix) together: This show as well as some others have great Science lessons that are fun to watch.
  8. Invest in a microscope: Once the kids get a little older, you may want to buy a microscope. They are not expensive (the kids ones), about $25, and so many things could be explored inside its lens. 
  9. Anatomy is not gross, it is inside you!: I went through many anatomy classes in school and some scenes could be part of horror movies. However, the more you learn about your body, the better you can take care of it. So don't be afraid to teach your kids about bones, organs, brains. If you do in an fun way, they won't be scared. They will love it!
  10. Be humble enough to let your kids know that you don't know everything and that someday they will know more than you do! (specially how to use a computer!!