Doing Science

Children learn about science by doing science – by observing and describing, questioning and searching for answers. That’s because science is inquiry-based. You’ve got to ask questions and figure out how to get the answers, and you can’t do that sitting in front of a screen – if you want to know how fast woolly bear caterpillars crawl, you’ve got to go follow a bunch.

Doing science includes working with others – collaborating on research, tossing ideas around, sharing your findings. By working together scientists (and curious children) build upon their knowledge. They test ideas, make connections, and maybe even change their views on how things work.

What can we, as parents and teachers, do to help our children become more comfortable exploring science? We can give them time to work out their ideas. It might take hours, days, weeks, maybe months to observe, investigate and test a single idea. As every scientist knows, the minute you start investigating one question, a gazillion more leap out at you.

Scientists need a workspace. A small table, with reference books and field guides nearby and a place to store supplies – we piled journals, hand lenses and other things in a plastic bin that fit under the table. If you’re afraid messy experiments will hurt your carpets, then put down a plastic sheet under the table (that’s what we did).

Children learn a lot of skills as they do science:

Classifying (sorting things into groups using a system)
Creating models (graphs, charts, 3-D models, diagrams)
Formulating hypotheses (a tentative explanation for how things work)
Generalizing (drawing conclusions)
Identifying variables (factors that influence their project)
Making decisions
Using tools of science
Measuring things
Close observations
Making predictions
Recording data
Sharing what they discover with others

If you are looking for ways to get your children (or students) involved in projects with real scientists, check out the list of projects under "Get Involved In Real Science" on the home page.