How to use downtime to foster your child’s curiosity
Children are scientists by nature. They have a seemingly boundless curiosity about the world around them. They are eager to know how things work and why things are as they are. Like professional scientists, they observe closely, ask questions, and try to figure out why things happen. Underlying this quest for knowledge is a basic premise of science: The world can be understood.
You can stimulate your child’s interest in science beyond what they learn in school. And you don’t need a degree in science to do this. What you need is a respect for your child’s curiosity, a willingness to satisfy that curiosity, and a positive attitude about science. Take seriously the comments your child makes and the questions she asks. Encourage her inquisitiveness by praising her questions and offering serious responses. If she shows an interest in a particular area, go with it. Take her to the library and find books on the topic. Your public library may have books with related science experiments that you can do at home with your child.
Of course, one of the best ways to convey the wonders of science to your child is to take her on trips to such places as planetariums, science museums, zoos, botanical gardens, nature centers, and aquariums. There are also many opportunities at home to teach your child about science, such as growing a garden, baking a cake, fixing a toaster, making a terrarium, having a pet, observing the changes in the moon, and starting a leaf or rock collection. Stimulate her thinking by asking questions like, “Why do you suppose a cake rises while it is baking?”
Also consider subscribing to a children’s magazine with articles about science. Many toys are available that have scientific merit, from building blocks and chemistry sets to magnifying glasses and bug kits. There are also many good child-oriented television programs that can stimulate an interest in science. At the same time, do not bombard your child with questions, information, and activities if she shows no interest. That will only turn her off to science and stiffen her resistance to future science learning.
Girls may shy away from science just as they sometimes do from math. They may be discouraged by adults from pursuing science seriously and may come to view it as a subject more worthy of boys. These early attitudes have consequences. Despite the strides women have made in opening doors that were previously closed to them, men continue to dominate the fields of science. These gaps reinforce the importance of science teachers not discriminating against their female students.
Parents must monitor the messages they give to their daughters about science, making sure to stress its importance and encourage their interest and effort.
Dr. Kenneth Shore, a psychologist, teaches part-time at Rutgers University.
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