When I was in elementary school, I was really into science. I was convinced that I was going to become an astronaut, and I promised my mom that I was going to bring our whole family on my spaceship so we could all explore the universe together. But as I grew older, I started to lose enthusiasm for the subject. Everyone seemed to focus on how difficult science could be, and many of my teachers failed to make the lessons interesting. (I distinctly remember spending several weeks learning about soil—while I'm sure that's a fascinating topic for some people, it did not capture the attention of our middle school class.) By the time I made it to high school, I somehow still managed to get good grades in physics and chemistry, but I no longer felt like I truly understood most of it. (There is a happy ending for me though: I ended up with the most enthusiastic biology professor in college, and I realized that I was smarter than I gave myself credit for.)
Unfortunately, science education is rapidly declining in elementary schools, averaging just 2.3 hours a week. It bums me out that a huge number of children are going to end up feeling discouraged just like I did. And science is a huge part of our daily lives, from the weather outside to the smartphones in our pockets, so we can't afford to raise a generation that doesn't understand it or isn't interested in it. What can parents do to ensure that their kids end up with a thorough grasp of the subject? I spoke with Bill Nye the Science Guy, the man largely responsible for piquing my interest in science way back in the day. "I have all the answers," he jokingly reassured me. "Listen to me and we'll solve all the world's problems."
All kidding aside, Nye does have some great ideas for encouraging a scientific curiosity for your little one—and you can use most of these tips all summer long, too.
Let your kid try out a hands-on activity every week. This could be trying an experiment in the kitchen, testing out a pair of binoculars, or playing with a new learning toy. (Nye is currently working with Sylvan Learning, who released new EDGE programming designed to offer kids the opportunity to explore STEM through coding, robotics and more.) "There's no substitute for doing it yourself," Nye says. "Just make sure that cleaning up after is part of the adventure!"
Insist on science every day in every grade. That may mean reaching out to your child's teacher, volunteering to help out in class, or even just donating some supplies to the school. If your child still isn't getting enough science education, it's even more important for you to make sure he's developing a healthy curiosity through his after-school activities.
Start teaching him about algebra earlier. (Yes, it sounds scary, but we're just talking about the basics here!) "Most people aren't exposed to algebra until seventh grade, and ideally we want them to be doing it in third or fourth," Nye says. "Start explaining how letters can represent numbers early on, so it's not as difficult to comprehend when he gets to middle school."
Relax! Kids will naturally want to mess around and experiment, so your job is to stay out of their way, Nye says. "You want your kid to learn about magnets? Give her magnets and go do something else. You want her to learn about electricity? Give her a flash light. She'll figure it out."
Mad Scientist Birthday Cake
Chrisanne Grise is an assistant editor covering kids' health and entertainment at Parents. She always looked forward to watching Bill Nye the Science Guy in elementary school. Follow her on Twitter @xanne.
Photo courtesy of Sylvan Learning