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        Kiddie Stuff

        As a parent, you are preparing your child for a world vastly different from the one in which you grew up. Our increasingly technological society will need citizens who have received far more advanced instruction in science and technology than most of us received when we were in school. Even children who don’t want to become physicists, chemists, engineers or computer technicians will need some knowledge of science and technology just to conduct their everyday lives. Every citizen needs to be scientifically literate in order to make informed decisions about health, safety and citizenship. Our children need our help and guidance to prepare for the world that awaits them.

        Scientific knowledge is cumulative: To learn new things, you must build on what you already know. So, it’s important that your child start learning early—and at home. A good way for you to begin the learning process is by sharing your own interest in science. How you view and talk about science can influence your child’s attitudes toward science—and how she1 approaches learning science. It’s easy to undermine a child’s interest and attitudes by saying things such as, “I was lousy in science, and I’ve done OK,” or “I always hated science when I was in school. It’s boring.” Although you can’t make your child like science, you can encourage her to do so, and you can help her to appreciate its value both in her everyday life and in preparing for her future.

        In everyday interactions with your child, you can do many things—and do them without lecturing or applying pressure—to help her learn science. Here are a few ideas:

        See how long it takes for a dandelion or a rose to burst into full bloom.

        Watch the moon as it appears to change shape over the course of a month and record the changes.

        Look for constellations in the night sky. Bake a cake.

        How to Use This Booklet
        This booklet makes available to you information that you can use to help your child to learn science. It includes:

        Some basic information about science;

        Activities for you and your child to do, both in the home and the community;

        Practical suggestions for how to work with teachers and schools to help your child succeed in science; and

        A list of science-related resources, including federal sources of information, publications for parents, science-related children’s magazines and books, and information about science camps.

        Solve the problem of a drooping plant.

        Figure out how the spin cycle of the washing machine gets the water out of the clothes.

        Take apart an old clock or mechanical toy—you don’t need to put it back together!

        Watch icicles melt.

        Observe pigeons, squirrels, butterflies, ants or spider webs.

        Go for a walk and talk about how the dogs (or birds or cats) that you see are alike and different.

        Discover what materials the buildings in your community are made of. Wood? Concrete? Adobe? Brick? Granite? Sandstone? Steel? Glass? Talk about the reasons for using these materials.

        Learning to observe carefully is an important step leading to scientific explanations. Experiencing the world with your child and exchanging information with him about what you see are important, too.

        Finally, encourage your child to ask questions. If you can’t answer all of her questions, that’s all right— no one has all the answers, not even scientists. For example, point out that there’s no known cure for a cold, but that we do know how diseases are passed from person to person—through germs. Some of the best answers you can give are, “What do you think?” and “Let’s find out together.” Together, you and your child can propose possible answers, test them out and check them by using reference books, the Internet, or by asking someone who is likely to know the correct answers.

        How to Use This Booklet
        This booklet makes available to you information that you can use to help your child to learn science. It includes:

        Some basic information about science;

        Activities for you and your child to do, both in the home and the community;

        Practical suggestions for how to work with teachers and schools to help your child succeed in science; and

        A list of science-related resources, including federal sources of information, publications for parents, science-related children’s magazines and books, and information about science camps.
        The Basics

        What Is Science?

        Science is not just a collection of facts. Of course, facts are an important part of science: Water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit (or 0 degrees Celsius), and the earth moves around the sun. But science is much, much more. Science involves:

        Observing what’s happening;

        Classifying or organizing information; Predicting what will happen;

        Testing predictions under controlled conditions to see if they are correct; and

        Drawing conclusions.

        Science involves trial and error—trying, failing

        and trying again. Science doesn’t provide all the answers. It requires us to be skeptical so that our scientific “conclusions” can be modified or changed altogether as we make new discoveries.

        Children Have Their Own “Scientific Concepts”

        Very young children can come up with many interesting explanations to make sense of the world around them. When asked about the shape of the earth, for example, some will explain that the earth has to be flat because, if it were round like a ball, people and things would fall off it. Presented with a globe and told that this is the true shape of the earth, these children may adapt their explanation by saying that the earth is hollow and that people live on flat ground inside it.

        Even older children can come up with unique “scientific” explanations, as in the following examples provided by middle-school students:
        “Fossils are bones that animals are through wearing.”

        “Some people can tell what time it is by looking at the sun, but I’ve never been able to make out the numbers.”

        “Gravity is stronger on the earth than on the moon because here on earth we have a bigger mess.”

        “A blizzard is when it snows sideways.”

        Asking Questions

        As mentioned earlier, it’s important to encourage your child to ask questions. It’s also important to ask your child questions that will get him talking about his ideas and to listen carefully to his answers. Keep in mind that children’s experiences help them form their ideas—ideas that may, or may not, match current scientific interpretations. Help your child to look at things in new ways. For instance, in regard to the blizzard, you could ask, “Have you ever seen it snow sideways?” or “What do you think causes it to snow sideways sometimes?”

        Such conversation can be an important form of inquiry or learning. Encourage your child by letting him know that it’s OK to make mistakes or admit he doesn’t know something. Rather than saying, “No, that’s wrong,” when he gives an incorrect explanation, give him accurate information or help him to find it. Going back to the blizzard, you could ask your child, “How could you check your definition?” “How does the dictionary’s definition of “blizzard” fit with what you said about snow moving sideways?”

        Knowing that you are willing to listen will help your child to gain confidence in his own thinking and encourage his interest in science. And listening to what he says will help him to figure out what he knows and how he knows it.

        Hands-On Works Well

        Investigating and experimenting are great ways for to learn science and increase their understanding of

        scientific ideas. Hands-on science can also help children think critically and gain confidence in their own ability to solve problems. Young children especially

        are engaged by things they can touch, manipulate

        and change; and by situations that allow them to figure out what happens—in short, events and puzzles that can investigate, which is at the very heart of scientific

        study. While hands-on science works well, it can also be messy and time-consuming. So, before you get started, see what is involved in an activity—including how long it will take.

        Less Is More

        It’s tempting to try to teach children just a little about many different subjects. Although children can’t possibly learn everything about science, they do need and will want to learn many facts. The best way to help them learn to think scientifically is to introduce them to just a few topics in depth.

        Finding the Right Activity for Your Child

        Different children have different interests and will respond differently to science activities. A sand and rock collection that was a big hit with an 8-year-old daughter may not be a big hit with a 6-year-old son.

        Fortunately, children whose interests vary greatly can find plenty of science activities that are fun. If your son loves to cook, let him observe how tea changes color when lemon is added or how vinegar curdles milk.
        Knowing your child is the best way to find suitable activities for him. Here are some tips:

        Encourage activities that are neither too hard nor too easy for your child. If in doubt, err on the easy side, because something too difficult may give him the idea that science itself is too hard. Adults often assume that children need spectacular demonstrations to learn science, but this isn’t true.

        Consider your child’s personality and social habits. Some projects are best done alone, others in a group; some require help, others require little or no adult supervision. Solitary activities may bore some children, while group projects may not appeal to others.

        Select activities that are appropriate for where you live. Clearly, a brightly lighted city isn’t the best place for stargazing.

        Allow your child to help select the activities. If you don’t know whether she would rather collect shells or plant daffodils, ask her. When she picks something she wants to do, she’ll learn more and have a better time doing it.

        Developing Your Child’s Scientific Understanding

        Unifying Concepts and Processes

        Children can be introduced gradually to basic scientific concepts that will provide a framework for understanding and connecting many scientific facts and observations. In this booklet, we will focus on five concepts and processes taken from the National Science Education Standards, released in 1996 by the National Resource Council of the National Academy of Sciences.2 You can easily introduce your child to the following five concepts through the activities in this booklet and many other simple science-related activities that you and your child can do at home or in the community.

        1. Systems, Order and Organization

        The natural world is so large and complicated that break it down into smaller parts in order to study it depth. These smaller units are called systems. Scientists look for patterns through which they can classify—or organize—things into systems. For instance, animals that have fur or hair are classified as mammals.

        When you encourage your child to gather and organize objects according to their size or color—for example, leaves or insects—you are helping prepare her to think in terms of systems. Furthermore, scientists

        believe that nature is understandable and predictable—that there is an order to it. For instance, low barometric pressure is often followed by storms. Challenging your child to make reasonable predictions such as this will further prepare her to look at the world in a scientific way.

        2. Evidence, Models and Explanations
        Scientists test the explanations they come up with, and the results of their tests are evidence on which to base their explanations. Sometimes they call their explanations “theories” or “models” or “hypotheses”. Children can test their theories about the world too: Is it the baking soda that makes my pancakes thick? Can I make thicker pancakes with more soda?

        3. Change, Constancy and Measurement

        The natural world changes continually. Some objects change rapidly and some at a rate too slow for observe. You can encourage your child to look changes by asking him to observe and talk about:

        What happens to breakfast cereal when we pour milk on it?

        What happens over time when a

        plant isn’t watered or exposed to proper sunlight?

        What changes can be reversed? Once water is turned into ice cubes, can it be turned back into water? Yes. But if an apple is cut into slices, can the slices be changed back into the whole apple?

        Children can observe change more carefully through measurement. Keeping a growth chart or making a graph of the temperature each day will give your child practice looking for differences and measuring them—and help him to understand how he’ll need to use math skills in learning science.

        4. Evolution and Equilibrium

        It’s hard for children to understand evolution (how things change over time) and equilibrium (how things attain a steady and balanced state of being). During these early years, you can, however, talk about how things

        change over time and point them out to your child. For instance, show your child a series of photos of himself from birth to the present and talk about the many ways he’s changed. And, you can talk about balance and the work it often takes to achieve it: Learning to ride a bicycle or walk with a book on his head are good examples.

        5. Form and Function

        One of the simplest themes in science is all around: The shape of a natural thing is almost always related to its function. Begin with man-made objects. Can your child guess the use of a thimble, a corkscrew, a phonograph record? When you are looking at animals, ask him questions such as: “What might those plates do on the stegosauros’s back?” “What sort of habitat would a web-footed platypus like?” His best guess will almost always be correct.

        Scientific Integrity

        Science fiction writer Isaac Asimov describes science as a “way of thinking.”3 It is a way to look at the world that involves special principles of conduct, and the early years of elementary school are a good time to start teaching children scientific ethics. We should help them understand how important it is to:

        Observe carefully; Record accurately;

        Try to look for patterns in an objective, unbiased way;

        Share their observations (or results) honestly and in a way that allows others to test what they’ve said;

        Realize that they might make mistakes; Respect curiosity; and

        Stay open to criticism and change. 

        The activities that follow are designed for you to use with your child at home and in the community. The activities are intended to show your child that science plays a part in many everyday activities and that it is used in many places and environments. They also show that learning science doesn’t require expensive equipment and complicated experiments.

        For each activity, you’ll see a grade span—from preschool through

        grade 5—that suggests when children should be ready to try it. Of course, children don’t always learn—or become interested in—the same things at the same time. And they don’t suddenly stop enjoying one thing and start enjoying another just because they are a little older. You’re the best judge of which activity your child is ready to try. For example, you may find that an activity listed for children in grades 1 or 2 works well with your preschooler. On the other hand, you might discover that the same activity may not interest your child until he is in grade 3 or 4. Feel free to make changes in an activity—shorten or lengthen it—to suit your child’s interests and attention span.

        Safety First

        Read through each activity before you try it with your child. In particular, look for this sign: <!> It highlights any activity that requires adult supervision, such as those that involve heat, chemicals or sharp instruments.

        Also make sure that your child understands any safety precautions that may be necessary for these—or any—science activities. In particular, you should:

        Teach your child not to taste anything without your supervision;

        Insist that he wear goggles whenever something could splash, burn, or shatter and endanger his eyes;

        Teach him to follow warnings on manufacturers’ labels and instructions for toys and science kits;

        Keep toxic or other dangerous substances out of the reach of

        your child;

        Teach him what he can do to avoid accidents; and Teach him what to do if an accident occurs.

        In a box near the end of each activity are a few facts and explanations for reinforcement and further teaching. But exploring, questioning and having a good time are more important than memorizing facts.

        Recording Results

        Keeping records is an important part of science. It helps us remember what did (and didn’t) work. Before starting the activities, give your child a notebook—

        a science journal—in which she can record her observations. Remember that seeing isn’t the only way to observe. Sometimes we use other senses: We hear, feel, smell or taste some things (of course, your child should be careful about what she tastes—

        and she shouldn’t taste anything without your permission).

        If your child cannot write yet, she can tell you what to write for her or draw pictures of what she sees. In addition, you may want to use a simple camera to help record observations.
        As a parent, you can help your child want to learn in a way no one else can. That desire to learn is a key to your child’s success. And, of course, enjoyment is an important motivator for learning. As you choose activities to use with your child, remember that helping him to learn doesn’t mean that you can’t laugh or that you have to be serious. In fact, you can teach your child a lot through play. We hope that you and your child enjoy these activities and that they inspire you to think of additional activities of your own.

        Science in the Home

        Your home is a great place for you to begin to explore science with your child. Incorporating science activities and language into familiar routines will show your child how science works in his everyday life and provide him with a safe environment in which to explore and experiment.

        A Science Walk


        Even a walk around the yard can provide many opportunities to introduce children to scientific concepts and processes by helping them to gain the scientific habit of observing what’s around them.

        What You Need

        A magnifying glass Science journal

        What to Do

        Take a walk outside with your child—around the yard, to the end of the block, in the park—anywhere that’s convenient. Invite her to

        bring along her science journal and show her how to use a magnifying glass. As you walk, stop and—depending on the season—ask her to use the lens to examine things such as the following:


        —leaves (from the same tree, one on the ground and one on the tree)

        —a flower —snowflakes —icicles —bugs

        —a mud puddle —a rock

        Ask her to talk about what she observes. Ask, for example:

        —What’s on each side of this leaf?

        —How is this leaf on the ground different from the one on the tree? —Are all the petals on this flower the same size and color?

        —Are these snowflakes exactly alike? How are they different? —How many legs does this bug have?

        —How many colors can you see in this mud puddle?

        Other questions you might ask as she observes and examines things along the way include the following:

        —Is it smooth or rough? —Is it hard or soft?

        —Is it dry or wet?

        —Is it alive? How do you know? —What shape is it?

        Give your child two different kinds of rocks or flowers and ask her to tell you how they are alike and different.

        Make sure she records her observations, reactions, findings and opinions in her science journal. Drawing pictures and taking photos are good ways to record observations, and you can help her to write appropriate captions. Encourage her to share her journal with others and to talk about her experiences.

        Observing closely is an important part of science, and tools such as a magnifying glass help scientists—even young ones—to observe, measure and do things that they otherwise could not do.

        Breaking the Tension


        These simple activities demonstrate surface tension.

        What You Need

        Index card

        Safety scissors

        Sink filled with water

        Glass half filled with water

        Liquid dishwashing detergent Ground pepper <!>


         What to Do

        From an index card, cut out a boat shape,

        like the one on this page. Make the boat about

        2-1/2 inches long and 1-1/2 inches wide. Have your child place the boat gently on the water in the sink. Have him pour a little detergent at the notch end of the boat. Ask him to describe what happens. (Note: To repeat this experiment, you’ll need to use fresh water to make the boat move.)

        Next, sprinkle a little ground pepper on the water in the glass. Give your child a toothpick and tell him to dip it in the middle of the pepper. Ask him what happens. Then tell him to put a drop of the detergent on another toothpick and dip it into the pepper. Now what happens?

        Surface tension results when the hydrogen in water molecules stick to one another as well as to the water below them. This creates a strong but flexible film on the water’s surface. The detergent disrupts the molecules and “breaks the tension,” making the boat go forward and the pepper move to the sides of the glass.



        Children can learn more about surface tension and about change just by blowing bubbles!

        What You Need
        8 tablespoons of dishwashing liquid 1 quart water

        1 drinking straw A shallow pan

        What to Do

        Mix the dishwashing liquid with the water and pour it into the pan. Give your child a straw and tell him to blow through it as he moves it slowly across the surface of the solution. Ask him to notice the size of the bubbles that he makes.

        Next, have your child try to make a very big bubble that covers the surface of the pan. Have him do the following:

        —Dip one end of the straw into the solution. Then hold the straw slightly above the surface. Blow into it very gently. He may have to try several times to make a really big bubble.

        —When he’s made a bubble, have him touch it gently with a wet finger to see what happens.

        —Have him make another big bubble, then touch it with a dry finger. What happens?

        Ask him to look closely at the bubbles he makes. How many colors does he see? Do the colors change?

        Bubbles are bits of air or gas trapped inside a liquid ball. The surface of a bubble is very thin. Bubbles are particularly fragile when a dry object touches them. That’s because soap film tends to stick to the object, which puts a strain on the bubble.