Parents can encourage and nurture their children’s natural curiosity by letting them manipulate, test and observe – the same methods used by scientists. Hands-on experiences, home experiments, "science" activities and trips to local educational institutions can make science interesting and accessible even to toddlers.
If you feel uncomfortable "teaching" science, or worry that you don’t know enough, relax. What you already know is a valuable resource – although you may not remember every detail about a specific science topic, you actually know more than you think. Then, later, when you reach the limit of your knowledge, look to outside sources for more information. Inevitably, you will arrive at a question for which there are not yet answers – answers which will one day be found by the future scientist you may be raising today.
Here are some fun experiments that involve basic "scientific" principles waiting to be discovered. Let each family member ask questions and work at his or her own ability level.
Have your child combine different colors (use playdough, watercolor paints or an eye dropper full of food coloring mixed in water). Start with red, blue and yellow.
If this approach is too familiar for your child, try either of the following experiments that demonstrate the same principle in new ways:
Questions: What happens when the same amounts are mixed? How do you "make" green, orange or purple? What happens when you mix all three? What happens if you mix unequal amounts?
Project: Use the new colors to paint a picture, or create a sculpture by mixing different colors of play dough.
Offer your child various "chemicals" – sugar, salt, flour, baking soda, oil, vinegar, milk and ground coffee – from the kitchen and have her mix them in water to observe what happens.
Questions: What mixes? What dissolves? What does not mix or dissolve? Can you "find" the sugar water and salt water by tasting the two? How much sugar can you add to a small cup of water? How much sugar can you add to ice water or to warm water? After a week, what happens to a bowl of sugar water – use a "super sweet" (saturated) solution.
Project: Make a glass of lemonade, Kool-Aid®, or oil-and-vinegar salad dressing.
Give your child an assortment of small magnets (use refrigerator magnets or toy pieces such as Brio® trains) plus magnetic and non-magnetic objects (paper clips, washers, pennies, jewelry, toothpicks and marbles).
Questions: What happens when two magnets touch? Which objects do the magnets attract? Do some magnets pick up more paper clips than others?
Project: Attach a picture of your child, family member or pet to the front of a magnet and place it on the refrigerator.
Seeds and Plants
Have your child grow a small plant using a seed (or a plant cutting, dried navy bean, acorn, narcissus bulb, carrot or pineapple top). Put the seed into a clear glass or jar. Fold a paper towel into the container so the seed is two inches above the bottom and pressed against the side. Use several seeds to ensure that some will sprout. Fill the jar with a half-inch of water to keep the paper towel moistened.
To grow bulbs or vegetable tops, place them in a shallow dish of water. After they have grown, cut the plants to see their inner parts.
Questions: What parts of the plant can we see? What do the roots do? The stem? The leaves? How long does it take for this plant to grow? What do the insides of this seedling look like?
Project: Plant a garden (inside or out) using bean, sunflower and marigold seeds, or crocus and narcissus bulbs.
Science is all around us. Even busy moms and dads can initiate a science discussion if they recognize the many opportunities that exist in our daily lives. So "talk" science!