I am a scientist and have spent the better part of my adult life working in a laboratory. When people ask about what that actually means, I usually tell them it’s probably what you imagine—white lab coats, strong smells, things that bubble and change color on the bench top, little cells moving around under a microscope. But when this discussion about profession occurs, what I have been most impressed with is how much young students grasp the concept of science and discovery and how excited they are to know more. My students ask the most thought provoking questions:
“Why do people get sick?”
“Why do I get a sunburn when I don’t wear sunscreen?”
“Will I ever use what I’m learning in Chemistry?” (YES!)
I love these questions because at the most basic level, science is about asking a question and finding the answer. STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) are often the ones that students struggle with the most, which is unfortunate because they are also some of the most useful in everyday life. I understand the intimidation and frustration that goes along with taking these courses because as a young student, I too struggled at times. In helping students overcome their fears about science-based subjects, it is important to encourage questions and exploration. Making science relatable makes it real, useful, and (dare I say) fun. Here are five ways that you can help spark curiosity in your child and promote a love of learning and science.
1. Accept a challenge
Embrace that STEM subjects are challenging and know that it is OK if this is true for your student. If concepts and lessons don’t come easy, it is not the end of the world. Encourage your student to have patience with the learning process and take heart in knowing that science is hard for scientists too!
2. Bring science to life
Going swimming this summer? Ask your child to show you how they can float and then ask them why they don’t sink to the bottom of the pool when a penny does. Start a dialogue with your student and encourage them to always ask why. Being able to connect science to everyday activities shows children its usefulness and emphasizes the power in knowing the answer.
3. Explore and experiment
Harness your student’s imagination and design experiments together in your own home-based lab. The kitchen is a great place to set up a workspace or designate as the ‘science center.’ Ask a question and then come up with several ways to find the answer, using things that you have in your own home. After you’re through, take a trip to the local science museum (we have a wonderful one in Phoenix) and keep the dialogue going. Explore together and discuss what the original scientific question may have been behind each exhibit.
4. Include technology
As a visual learner, I often use technology with my students. There are so many resources available to guide students through the learning process and help them better understand difficult concepts. Check out YouTube for videos of age-appropriate experiments. Listen to science podcasts as a family and discuss them at the dinner table. Download STEM apps on the family iPad and enjoy learning things in a new way.
5. Take things apart
The best way to understand how something complicated works is to break it down into its simpler parts. Let your student choose something to take apart (a flashlight, old phone, clock, small fan) and help them work through the process of identifying each part. Talk about how each piece has a purpose in building the original item and encourage your student to think of ways to improve upon the design. Need a bigger challenge? Try putting the item back together at the end.
Science doesn’t have to be boring or impossible. Keep students engaged in learning by making science fun. After all, kids are our future scientists and inventors!