Helping Your Child Learn Science - Activities: Science In The Community (page 2)
Our communities offer many opportunities and resources to help children learn science, including
- Science at Work
- Community Groups and Organizations
- Other Community Resources
To find out more about resources in your community: Check your local newspaper, a local guidebook or your telephone directory. Or, go online and search the Internet. (The Resources section has more information about science-related Web sites for children.) Other good sources of information and ideas might be your child's teacher, the school librarian or the children's librarian at your local public library. Before you pay a visit to a museum, planetarium, or the like, be sure to check the hours it's open and what cost - if any - is involved. Note that some places may charge entrance fees at certain times and grant free admission at other times.
Zoos are great places for you to encourage your child's interest in the natural world and to introduce him to exotic animals that he might not otherwise ever see. Here are a few suggestions to help make your visit to a zoo worthwhile:
Discuss expectations with your child. What does he think he'll find at the zoo? A very young or insecure child may go to the zoo with a more positive attitude if you assure him that it has food stands, water fountains and bathrooms.
Don't try to see everything in one visit. Zoos are such busy places that they can overwhelm children, particularly preschoolers and kindergarteners.
Try to visit zoos at off hours or times of the year (very early on a Saturday morning, for example, or in winter). Choosing less crowded times to visit will allow your child unobstructed views of the animals, as well as a more leisurely tour of the exhibits.
Look for special programs that are set up just for children, such as petting zoos, exploring local habitats and getting involved with conservation projects. Such programs provide children with hands-on opportunities that are otherwise prohibited by most zoos and allow families to learn about wildlife by getting involved in conservation efforts and exploring local habitats together.
As you tour the zoo, keep your child interested and focused. Try the following activities:
Play a guessing game. Guessing games can help your child understand form and function. You might, for example, ask questions such as the following:
- Why do you think seals have flippers? (Seals use flippers to swim through the water.)
- Why do you think these gibbons have such long, strong arms? (Their arms help them swing through the trees.)
- Why does that armadillo have a head that looks like it's covered with armor? Why is its body covered with those bony plates? (The armor and the bony plates protect it from other animals that want to eat or kill it.)
- Why is that snake the same brown color as the ground? (As snakes evolved, the brown ones didn't get eaten as quickly.)
Match the animals. Children can learn about organization by seeing related animals. Have them compare the sizes, leg shapes, feet, ears, claws, feathers or scales of various creatures. Ask them, "Does the lion look like a regular cat?" "How are they the same?" "Does the gorilla look like the baboon?" (Caution: Take time to read any signs that provide descriptions and classifications of animals and use this information in your discussions. Dolphins, for example, are not fish; they're mammals. Asking children to compare a dolphin to a shark might reinforce children's wrong ideas.)
As your child gets older, he will understand more complex answers to these questions.
After the visit, have your child do follow-up activities and projects. A child who particularly liked the flamingos and ducks may enjoy building a birdhouse for the back yard. One who liked the mud turtle may enjoy using a margarine tub as a base for making a papier-máché turtle.
In museums, both you and your child can have fun and learn science together. Science and technology museums, natural history museums and children's museums can be found in many middle-sized and smaller communities, as well as in large cities.
Museums vary in quality. If possible, try to find museums that have special areas, exhibits and "hands-on" programs just for children. In these programs, children are often able to use scientific equipment that is far too expensive or specialized for their schools to own. Look for museums that have:
- Levers to pull;
- Lights to switch on;
- Buttons to push;
- Animals to stroke; and
- Experiments to do.
Many museums offer special science classes. Look for IMAX theaters. These enable visitors to see giant-screen movies on subjects ranging from space launches to exploring the Antarctic.
Many of the tips for visiting the zoo are also helpful when you visit museums. For example, don't try to cover too much on one visit, and do try visiting at off hours when the crowds won't seem overwhelming.
Planetariums have wonderful exhibits and activities for youngsters. There are over 1,000 planetariums in the United States, ranging from small ones that hold about 20 people to giant facilities with hundreds of seats. These facilities are particularly useful for children who live in urban areas, where city lights and air pollution obstruct the view of the sky.
Inside a planetarium, your child may be able to:
- Use a telescope to view the rings of Saturn;
- See details of the "sky" from inside the planetarium's dome; and
- Step on scales to learn what she would weigh on the moon or on Mars.
Aquariums enable youngsters to see all kinds of marine life, from starfish to sharks to electric eels, and to learn about their special habitats.
Your child may particularly enjoy feeding times. Before visiting an aquarium, call ahead to find out when the penguins, sharks and other creatures get to eat. Also check for special shows that feature sea lions and dolphins.
Reprinted with the permission of the U.S. Department of Education.
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