Dear Dr. Shore,
Im not pleased with the science education my sixth grader is receiving at school. She loves science, so I want to provide what the school is not. What can I do to encourage this interest?
There's plenty you can do to encourage your child's interest in science -- and you don't need a scientific background to do it. All you need is a healthy respect for her curiosity, a willingness to satisfy that curiosity, and a positive attitude about science.
Perhaps the most important thing you can do is to respect the comments your child makes and the questions she asks rather than dismissing them as silly or foolish or giving pat answers. Instead, encourage her inquisitiveness by praising the questions and offering a serious response. If she shows an interest in a particular area of science, go with it. Take her to the library and find books on the topic -- or explore the topic online. If time allows, find some simple science experiments the two of you can do at home.
Many of the most rewarding and educational science experiments dont require equipment of any kind. For example, experiments that expose plants to differing conditions of water, light, and warmth can enlighten your child on important concepts of life science. Asking questions about her observations can lead to a discussion of how plants use sunlight to convert water into food: Why do plants grow toward the light? Why do some plants droop? What is the purpose of roots? What do you think will happen if plants are deprived of water or light? Why do some leaves turn yellow and fall off?
The opportunities to teach your child about science at home are limited only by your own imagination. Common household activities -- fixing a toaster, making a terrarium, having a pet -- all present opportunities for learning about the world around us. For example, if you are baking a cake, you might ask your child "Why do you suppose a cake rises while it is baking?"
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 a planetarium, science museum, zoo, botanical garden, nature center, and aquarium. In addition, many toys are available that have scientific merit, from building blocks to chemistry sets; from magnifying glasses to bug kits. There are many good child-oriented television programs with science content. You also might consider subscribing to a children's magazine that contains articles about science.