Cultivating an Inquiring Mind

Once upon a time, I was a science major. Yup, I have a Bachelor's degree in biological science. I've studied physiology, biochemistry, botany, immunology, and even parasitology (yes, that is what you think it is). The intricacy and detail that is involved in the development of an embryo, the patterns in the veins of a leaf, and most of all, in the human body itself, is mind boggling. The study of science, then, is one way we can help point our children to the wonders of the world God has created. Most children, by nature, are curious. And the summer is the perfect time for our kids to explore and ask questions. The weather is good and they can spend a lot of time outdoors. If we look, we have many unique opportunities to point our children to their Creator.

So instead of just sitting around the TV or gluing their eyes to those little video game screens, let's take advantage of the many opportunities summer affords to explore, experiment and discover. Not only can our children learn more about the world God made, they can also cultivate strong critical thinking skills, stretch their creativity in devising solutions, and increase their powers of observation, all of which are excellent life skills in the future.

Exploring Science with Your Kids

You don't need to be a scientist in a white lab coat to enjoy and explore science with your kids. All you need is a bit of time and a good dose of curiosity and enthusiasm. Here are some suggestions:

1. Just read!

One of the easiest ways to introduce a love of science to our kids is to just read fact books on scientific topics that interest them. Just take a stroll down the juvenile science section in a library or bookstore and see what piques their curiosity. (Here's a warning though: science books tend to have a strong evolutionary bent. Use your discretion. I still like to use them because they have great photos, but I do point my children to the Lord. When they are old enough, we actually discuss evolutionary theory and help them to understand what it is.)

2. Play games to learn facts.

Another fun way for young kids to learn is to play games. Check out these science games on a variety of themes from Wart Games for starters.

3. Make it hands-on.

With all that said, science is not meant to be neat and tidy. Kids love to see things in action. Take time to do both demonstrations and experiments with your kids. What's the difference? A demonstration shows how something works. An experiment requires you to make and test out your hypothesis about why something works, and then form conclusions based on what you observe and learn. I like Science Bob's projects for younger kids that demonstrate, and then have additional questions for your kids to puzzle through and test out their ideas.

4. Be ready.

One way you can encourage experimentation is to be ready. Many experiments involve simple materials (check out this list here --scroll down midway--as a guide). Package it up into a sturdy box so you're ready to go. Include a notebook or paper, colored pencils to sketch and draw with, a ruler, pencil, etc. and your kids will be ready to go!

5. Give them opportunities to observe.

Observation is a critical skill in science. Learning to notice shades of difference, detail and patterns help develop the brain to see things that others may miss. One of the easiest ways to do this is to go for a nature walk. Give your kids a pencil and notebook and let them sketch what they see. Or you can make a special box like this to corral your specimens for a closer look.

Or try out some of these activities and have your kids try to explain why. Here are a few good sites to check out:

I Can Teach My Child: Going through 15 experiments like Marshmallow SlingshotsElephant Toothpaste, Fizzy Balloons, Fireworks in a Jar, and the ever popular Mentos Geysers.  I like the way she also explains the science behind it, making these more demonstrations than experiments (see above for the difference).

Motherhood on a Dime: Dancing Raisin Experiment , Making "Rain" (demonstration)

Exploratorium Science Experiments at Home Explains why. See if your kids can figure out why, based on what they know or do some research before looking at the answers.

6. Walk them through the scientific method.

Matthew is my little scientist. When he hits a wall, I can see him methodically trying one idea after another, changing one thing at a time and then noting the results. Basically, that's what the scientific method is. It's about defining your problem, and then coming up with a possible solution. Then you design an experiment to test out said hypothesis.

Why learn the scientific method? Benefits include:

  • learning problem solving skills
  • exercising their creativity
  • giving them a chance to ask questions, not just take in what someone else says
  • teaches them how to tackle a problem sequentially
  • develops perseverance

Start with a problem that they may naturally encounter. Our job is to resist the temptation to tell them what to do. Instead, we can encourage them to take their problem apart and consider how they might find other options.

Don't have a problem? Then check out Science Buddies or Science Fair for science fair projects. Let your child pick one out (for fun, not just for school!) and tackle it for the summer. (Yes, you can do that.) Look for books on the subject in the library. Let your child be an expert and challenge him or her to find out everything they can about that subject. Maybe they can teach you a thing or two!

Take Advantage of the Summer!

Often times, school takes all the fun out of discovery. I hope that today's post encourages you to think a little differently. With the warm weather, abundant plant and bug life or the trips to the beach, the summer can be a wonderful time to explore God's creation. So come on, be a kid, and explore God's world with your children. Don't tell them it's school and they may even learn a ton more.

It'll be our little secret.

Suggested reading:

Beat Brain Drain with Summer Science