Help Kids Learn by Turning Science Into Magic

Filed under: Amazing Kids, Cabin Fever, Activities: Babies, Books for Kids

I'll confess this without blushing: I'm an artsy mom. Ask me what a poem means and I'm like a dog with a bone. But when it comes to answering those big, science-related questions that all kids ask - Why is the moon out during the day? Why do dogs like bones? - I feel, well, a bit thick, because I don't know why. But guess what: that's okay, at least according to Helaine Becker, author of numerous science books for kids of all ages.

"No one knows everything!" says Becker, who's logged many hours in classrooms bringing science to life. (Her latest book, Magic Up Your Sleeve, uses magic tricks to illuminate scientific principles; my eight-year-old son can't put it down).

Her advice for how parents should approach questions we don't have the knowledge to answer: "Admit that you don't know ... and find out the answer together. Is it something you can look up in a book or online? Or should you test it out by doing an experiment? Teaching your child how to find out information on her own is the best lesson you will ever impart."

Becker also argues passionately that kids need lots of free, unsupervised time to think, explore and do - and to make a mess. "Science is not some big, bad 'E=mc² ARRGH!' Monster. It's simply the 'Art of Curiosity,'' she says.

That's a notion that sounds awfully reassuring to this artsy mom. I can't wait to find out more ...Carrie: Can any kid be a scientist?

Helaine: Most kids are curious about everything, and are therefore natural scientists. The attitude that is a 100% guaranteed way to turn kids off is that there is a "right" or a "wrong" answer, or that there are "right" ways to do things. Besides, it's just plain wrong. Scientists usually learn the most from screwing up - there's a reason the process is called "trial and error." Alexander Graham Bell, for example, invented the telephone when he got the whole darn contraption put together backwards.

Carrie: So, how do we feed rather than stifle our kids' curiosity?

Helaine: Science, and learning of all sorts, is about making mistakes. Those who are most willing to make mistakes are the ones who will wind up learning the most and coming up with the best new ideas. So, to encourage this, let kids mess around as much as possible without too much supervision.

Carrie: What if they come to us with questions?

Helaine: Point them to resources to help them learn. And give them tools - like notebooks to record information - that help learning and exploration. And perhaps most important of all, give them lots of free time in which they can explore their own interests. Too much busyness is the death of thought.

Carrie: In your experience, what are kids most interested in learning about?

Helaine: Everyone's favourite topic - themselves! The human body is endlessly fascinating and great to use as a subject because you've got it right there to experiment on. Kids are also most curious about the world around them - animals, insects, plants, how things work. They haven't become anesthetized to the wonder of existence. That's why spending time with kids can be so refreshing to the soul (when they aren't driving you crazy!).

Carrie: Any final tips or suggestions for parents as we get out of the way and let our kids explore?

Helaine: Your kids will pick up on your own attitudes, whatever those may be. If you are the kind of person who is naturally curious, then you've got it made. If you aren't, you need to ask yourself where that curiosity has gone!

Make sure kids have lots of stuff to experiment with - rocks, screws, bolts, coloured bits of this and that - it doesn't matter what it is. And they need to be outdoors, exploring the natural world: dirt, birds, twigs, light moving across water. Kids also need lots of time to see what happens when you mix this with that, or squash that blob of hamburger with a fork, or pile blocks on top of the swing.

All "what will happen if ..." questions are scientific. When kids spill the water all over the rug trying to find out if Barbie can float, they are doing science. Even though your rug is ruined, you need to celebrate that spirit of inquiry. The worst thing you can do is plop your kid down in front of a computer or a TV - a screen of any kind. Don't kid yourself that they are learning, even from educational games and TV. They are blobbing.

Helaine Becker's books, including Magic Up Your Sleeve, are available from booksellers everywhere, or online at Owlkids.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.