The other night at dinner, after exhausting the usual conversation topics of "how was your day" and "what did you learn at school today," I told my daughter and husband about a woman who had a condition that caused her to physically feel what happened to others. My eight-year-old was riveted as I told her that if this woman watched someone else's arm get pinched, she would feel a pinch on her skin in the same place on her body. This story led to all sorts of questions about how and why, and we delved into the science behind it.
I'd heard this story on the "Entanglement" episode of the Invisibilia podcast, the new science show on NPR about the invisible forces that control human behavior. I thought my daughter would find it interesting, but I was pleasantly surprised by how interested she was in the science behind this woman's condition and the great conversation it created. Soooooo much better than the monosyllabic answers I get to most of my questions about my daughter's day, or the random silly noises or absurd comments she makes that I can't even make any sense of. Is science the answer to my dinnertime conversation woes?
Then yesterday I came across a story about swapping in science stories for fairy tales at bedtime to help instill girls with a lifelong fascination with and love of science. The mom, a journalist who had never been very good at science (she sounds a lot like me), had married a guy who loved science (hmmm, also sounds like me), and when their daughter turned seven, the husband started a nightly ritual of telling the daughter stories about space or bugs or the human body (nope, not me). Whatever the story, he would make it relevant to their daughter's world. Two years later, their daughter loves science and is always interested in hearing another one of daddy's stories.
Could keeping girls interested in science really be this simple? I hope so. We know parents being involved in their kids' education greatly improves their success in school, but beyond attending parent-teacher conferences and helping with homework, we should also try to bring science into their everyday lives in a more organic and casual way. When kids realize science is all around them, it makes it more accessible and worthy of the time it takes to wrap their minds around its concepts.
And, if nothing else, it will at least expand your dinner convo options. I'm already downloading the next Invisibilia podcast as fodder for tonight's dinner topic...
Ellen Sturm Niz is a New York City-based editor and writer who is seriously obsessed with the Invisibilia podcast. Like, she might have a problem. Follow her on Twitter and Pinterest to see more of her articles about kids and parenting, home design and DIY projects, and food trends and menu ideas.
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