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Thinking Like a Scientist

Dear Elizabeth,
My nephew is really interested in space and nature. Should I start teaching him about science, even though he’s only three?
David Easton Castle Rock, CO
Elizabeth's Tips
Elizabeth Sanchez
Elizabeth Sanchez
  • Support your child’s curiosity & sense of wonder
  • Encourage investigation & exploration
  • Ask open-ended questions
Expert Advice
Bill Nye
Bill Nye
Science educator & author
Nurture Children’s Natural Curiosity
Everyone thinks like a scientist when your little, humans are so intellectual we’ve changed the atmosphere, with our ability to reason and predict. I knew I wanted to be a scientist when I was three. I remember watching bees and being fascinated with cooking. Kids want to know how the world works. The big thing in science is that it’s a process, it’s the way we understand the world, we make observations and make a prediction, and that’s the P, B & J – the passion, beauty and joy of discovery. Science is the center of everything we do, and it involves math, language arts, geography, etc.

Encourage Exploration
To promote scientific thinking, give kids things they can get their hands on and manipulate. Of course, you can buy the “latest greatest” plastic toy with rings and squares and they’ll play with it for a little while, but trying giving them a pot and a lid from the kitchen. Watch him bang on it happily trying to figure out how it fits, how it sounds, etc. There’s a big connection with what happens with your hands and reasoning when you’re young.

Don’t Be Hesitant About Science
Children start out curious and excited about science, so we just need to keep that momentum going as they grow up. Maybe parents are sometimes hesitant because they were turned off from science when they were younger. But what we should say to parents is that science is as important a discipline as anything else. If you look in any room, everything there came out of someone’s head, designed by a person. For example, the placement of trees in a city, there are people who understand science. It’s important to go through life and have a connection between science and the universe. It’s how we participate in the future.

Get Messy!
Let them make a mess, let them explore, investigate, question. Making a mess is important because they’re discovering how things work for themselves. Parents need to be enthusiastic about science as well. Role model your excitement for science. I tell every parent, and teacher, science is the most fun thing you can do with your kid. You get to have props! There’s nothing more fun – put a tennis ball on top of a basket ball!

When you help kids love science, they’re so much happier and much more complete. If you talk to any scientist or engineer, they can’t wait to go to work! Everybody can think like a scientist. Anybody who likes to garden – they’re thinking like scientists. Science promotes critical thinking. If you want to improve your life, you need science. For example, we need more food for more people, better transportation, faster bank accounting – anything you need – it’s all about science!

Don’t Give All the Answers
You may have heard the expression, “The child who never falls is watched too closely.” You have to let kids find out for themselves. Let them have hands-on experiences and figure it out for themselves. Encourage them to question things because it excites a different part of your brain. Your brain development is more complete if you discover things hands-on.

Ask Open-Ended Questions
The only thing that we know as scientists is that we don’t know everything. Things are going to change, and they change by asking questions. Why does the metal ship float? Why does wood float? Why are oranges orange and grapefruits yellow? I don’t know why, but there’s a reason, so let’s investigate. Then say to your child, “It’s OK not to know the answer. Maybe you’ll be the one to figure it out!” Follow your child’s lead – what’s better than talking to your kids and having fun. If they’re fascinated with planes like I was as a kid, then ask them “Why do they fly?” Sooner or later, you’ll run out of answers, and that’s the best part.
Child Care Provider Comments
Martin Sottile
Martin Sottile
Father of two
It doesn’t take anything fancy to incorporate science into your kids’ lives. My kids do a lot of art projects, and will collect things from the woods. This helps them understand and respect nature. Science projects don’t have to cost a lot of money. We will go hunting for pinecones and rocks, and will often start an art project such as painting pinecones or rocks and turn it into a science project. The kids are very curious about the life and death of plants, for example, when a plant dies how it deposits seeds so that a new plant can grow. Recently, my daughter was frightened by the wind, so I took her outside and we watched the leaves blow around and it lessened her fears because we talked about how wind is natural and nothing to fear.
Aimee Gutierrez
Aimee Gutierrez
Mother of three
I encourage my niece’s interest in science by taking walks in the park with her, which is a great way to make science fun. You never know exactly what you will see or what will happen – the expectations are unknown. Looking at birds, butterflies, flowers and plants is a great way to introduce lessons about the cycle of life and elements.

Bubbles and Bubble Wands Featured Activity:
Bubbles and Bubble Wands
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5097 - Thinking Like a Scientist
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