Helping Your Child Learn Science: The Basics (page 2)

— U.S. Department of Education
Updated on Dec 16, 2008

Hands-On Works Well

Investigating and experimenting are great ways for children 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 they 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. 

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