Children learn about science by doing science - by observing and describing, questioning and searching for answers. If you want to find out how fast woolly bear caterpillars crawl, you've got to follow them!
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 helpful adults, 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 kitchen counter will do; we used a kid-sized table covered with a plastic table cloth. We shelved reference books and field guides on a kid-level bookshelf and piled journals, hand lenses and other things in a plastic bin that fit under the table. For messy experiments, we put a plastic sheet under the table.
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
- Sharpening observation skills
- Making predictions
- Recording data
- Sharing what they discover with others
If you are looking for ways to get kids involved in projects with real scientists, look for a local Community Science (or Citizen Science) project.