|My son out exploring with his botanist grandfather.|
We're systematically destroying our culture's love of and faith in science through the way we're teaching and parenting. When I was a kid I knew I couldn't do science, because I wasn't smart enough. Also I didn't have glasses. And when I finally did get glasses at about fourteen I'd realized that science was uncool anyway. Like my shameful glasses. Except for geeks. Geeks who were actually good at science were super-cool, and beyond my league. I could barely bring myself to speak to them, even when we were paired in biology class. Until I married one of those guys (they're almost always guys, right?) and raised some kids, one of whom, from the age of about seven, wanted nothing more than to attend university NOW to study theoretical physics. That wasn't an option for a young kid, so we unschooled our way into his adulthood, and everything about my understanding of science changed. I learned a LOT from watching how my science-passionate kid explored the world, how he was encouraged and discouraged and, ultimately, how our system fails both our kids and science. I'm going to lay it all out here, including, at the end, the list of resources I think are essential and nice-to-have for encouraging a love of science in all of us.
What We're Doing Wrong
|My fifteen-year-old son's chaotic desktop: Collection vials, yeast experiments, and parts of various electrical and biological experiments.|
How to Do Right
|My son and his friend experimenting with their homemade forge.|
Materials for Scientific Exploration from Toddlerhood to Adulthood
- trips to the library, and an unending supply of ALL KINDS of books
- musical instruments and sound-makers of any and all types with no attached expectations. Some libraries lend instruments, and parents of young kids are often trading around an assortment of interesting instruments as well.
- an always-available assortment of art and craft materials (see my separate post on this)
- cardboard boxes, ramps, large paper brochures, blankets, cushions and other materials for building in the house
- shovels, rakes, buckets, and water for playing outside in the dirt, forest floor, or sand
- freedom to cook and bake in the kitchen with appropriate supervision but as much freedom as possible for experimentation--be prepared for creations to be inedible!
- Duplo, Lego, Keva blocks, Zome, marble runs, or other similar open-ended building toys. Instead of keeping the sets together as they came, dispense of the instructions and create a mixed box for free-play.
stuffies, and materials for house or care-giving play. "Real" tools
like brooms, rags, kitchen tools and baby supplies are great for
- fabrics and sewing supplies
- endless outdoor explorative play (see separate article, here)
- time spent with a diverse range of different people
- a good quality dissecting microscope (we got ours from Westlab.com)
- a good quality telescope for astronomy or wildlife viewing
- a little pocket jeweler's microscope that can be brought outside
- a bunch of exciting chemicals: sulfur, stump remover, matches and books by Theodore Gray (especially Mad Science and Elements)
- a fire pit
- materials for electrical and electronic experimentation: discarded electronics from local recycling centres to take apart, some basic breadboards, wiring, and related components; perhaps a big transformer and some guidance on related dangers
- petri dishes, measuring glasses or beakers, agar powder for growing molds and bacteria (again, with some guidance)
- an inexpensive waterproof camera
- access to wood and metal shops
- Internet access. I'm not a big fan of screen time, but it's the world our kids live in, so the sooner they're able to have unfettered access (with lots of family discussion and good role-modeling by parents) the sooner they'll be able to master it and use it safely. Some of my kids' greatest self-determined learning has been through exploring and publishing on online platforms.
- open university courses either online or through brick and mortar schools
- university or trade programs
- interesting and unexpected jobs
- online exploration through YouTube and other platforms
- experimenting with tools (software, woodworking/metal/automotive shop, camera, etc.)
- clubs or discussion groups
- pet care
- building relationships
- raising children