If you look up science in Webster’s you find a number of different variations. All definitions there involve terms such as: knowledge, ignorance, study or practice, general truths, misunderstanding, operation of general laws, scientific method, tests. Man…what the heck is scientific method and who wants to take more tests!
Our take is that Science involves a number of additional terms that are not listed in Webster’s…Science goes beyond vocabulary - it’s found in song birds, Fruit Loops, fishing reels, an electricity tube, a flying rotor, curiosity, taking action, playing around, and dreaming big.
“This boy said to me, ‘See that bird standing on the wheat there? What’s the name of it?’ I said, ‘I haven’t got the slightest idea.’ He said, ‘It’s a brown-throated thrush. Your father doesn’t teach you much about science.’
I smiled to myself, because my father had already taught me that that doesn’t tell me anything about the bird. He taught me, ‘See that bird. It’s a brown-throated thrush, but in Germany it’s called a halzenflugel, and in Chinese they call it a chung ling and even if you know all those names for it, you still know nothing about the bird. You only know something about people; what they call the bird.’
‘Now that the thrush sings, and teaches its young to fly, and flies so many miles away during the summer across the country, and nobody knows how it finds its way. There is a difference between the name of the thing and finding what goes on.’”
...the words of Richard Feynman, 1965 Nobel Prize Winner in Physics. Richard Feynman is known for his work in Quantum Electrodynamics, Particle Theory and Feynman Diagrams. (His father, a salesman by trade, was a good teacher of science.)
Out to teach science? Put away the vocabulary… and “find out what goes on.”
Fruit Loops, Physics, and Taking Action
“Alaina…Alaina, where are you?” I stride into the kitchen and find Alaina (our three year old daughter) doing her one leg balancing act routine up on a toy high chair that is wobbling precariously from its perch on top of a Rubbermaid storage box that is stabilized from sliding by the kitchen chair that is laying against it on its side wedged against the kitchen wall.
“Just getting some Fruit Loops, mom.”
All in the name of Fruit Loops! I can just imagine the underlying passion involved in the climb to the top. (Not to mention the hypothesis she reasoned, experimentation she attempted, and conclusions she drew as she proceeded perfectly through the scientific method in her breakfast quest.)
What led to Alaina’s use of the scientific method? Passion for the end result-definitely. But as I think about it, her motivation for the process of how she was going to get there was clearly just as exciting to her. Fuel the fires of your child’s interests by appreciating their efforts to take action. Their passion for the process is more valuable in building skills and character than any end result they can possibly attain.
Curiosity and Fishing Reels
Jack, our six year old, is the collector of the house. He has a special desk drawer in his room for all of his valuables. Bottlecaps, baseball cards, art projects, screws, rubberbands, cabinet latches, Kentucky coffee beans and much more have made it to his special drawer of priceless collectibles.
“A fishing reel…It’s rusty and it doesn’t work, Jack…why are you keeping that?” I asked.
“I want to know how it works – I’m going to take it apart,” Jack replied.
I never thought exploring the guts of a fishing reel with a kindergartner would lead me to consider principles of mechanical engineering. Do you know how many gears are in a fishing reel? I’ve learned some meaningful stuff from being around my six year old. When you invite curiosity into everyday experiences with your children, the simplest discoveries reel you in to new appreciation for human achievements and awe for the Inventor of it all.
An Electricity Tube and Some Playing Around
Ben Franklin was overjoyed in receiving the gift of an electricity tube from his friend, Peter Collinson. He immediately began to play around with it, performing experiments. It wasn’t long before an intense interest in electrical power developed - eventually leading him to his decision to tie a key to a kite and fly it into a stream of electrified air.
Tempted to give in to the parenting mantra, “Quit playing around,” in favor of convention or neatness? Consider first what is really going on in your child’s play. Another phrase may be apt for the situation, “Looking good. Keep at it.”
A Flying Rotor and Dreaming Big
“While growing up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Milton Wright, the Wright Brother’s father, liked to purchase toys for his sons that he hoped would stimulate their imagination. One of the most memorable gifts was a toy helicopter that was designed by the French aeronautical experimenter Alphonse Penaud. Milton gave his sons this gift in 1878, and though it was a simple device with a stick bound to a four-blade rotor set in a spindle, it had the intended effect—it caused them to dream. Twenty-five years separated the gift of this toy and their invention of the airplane, yet the Wright brothers were convinced it had exerted an important influence.” (Dawson & Bowles, 2005)
Whenever possible, use something fun as a springboard for the imagination…It makes the transition to “dreaming big” easy, pleasurable, and more rewarding. If you want your kids to love science - give them something to hang onto, something tangible to learn from, something that inspires them to think beyond the obvious.
[A Fat Brain Toys Scientific Law: Textbooks do not qualify as springboards for the imagination. Giving kids a textbook and wondering why they “don’t get into it” is equivalent to coaching a football team from the locker room using a playbook - and then wondering why no one shows up for practice.]
Putting It All Together
So you want to teach your kids some science. How can we at Fat Brain Toys help kids better understand science?
Start with some raw material…from the world around you or from our inventory of microscopes, magnets, chemistry sets, electrical sets, anatomy models, terrariums, catapults…forget the vocabulary initially and then get curious, take action, play around and dream big.