Why is it that science intimidates us? I’ve heard it more than once–I even used to feel that way! That science was just too hard to teach, since I really didn’t understand it myself. Science is so all-encompassing, and so critically important–as homeschoolers it’s daunting to think about teaching our children any part of it, especially when most of us don’t remember even half of what we learned in high school biology!
What exactly is “Science” anyway? Merrium-Webster’s online dictionary states that science is:
1. The state of knowing: knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding.
2. a: a department of systematized knowledge as an object of study.
b: something that may be studied or learned like systematized knowledge.
3. a: knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method.
b: such knowledge or such a system of knowledge concerned with the physical world and its phenomena.
OK….but what does that mean? Basically it means that science is both a body of knowledge and a process. Knowledge generated using scientific methods is powerful and reliable. It can be used to develop new technologies, treat diseases, and it is on-going.
It amazes me that as I’ve personally gone through the process of “deschooling”–all of these childhood curiosities have returned. Interests I’d forgotten about have come back to me, homeschooling has enabled me to pursue them, and has led me to new curiosities, new passions. Which I follow, in the name of modeling good lifestyle behaviors for my children….Okay, secretly this is partly just for me as a person, but I’ve also found that modeling good lifestyle behaviors has a positive effect on everyone I touch–not only my children, but my husband, my sisters, friends and family–it’s a positive thing and it’s infectious. Don’t tell anyone. It’s a secret.
Under the guise of “education” I can ramble the forests of Maine with my two boys, exploring our local vernal pool in search of amphibians. I can say that it is for the boys, and of coarse they have a blast doing those sorts of things, but in all honesty that is something I do to satisfy a curiosity within myself. Herpetology is an interest that has remained constant throughout my life, and a passion that only seems to grow stronger as I grow older.
And then we dropped our curriculum in favor of unschooling.
It’s taken me a few weeks, but I think I’ve reached the point that so many other unschooling mamas have attained, where I have come to the realization that this indulgence in curiosity is the very heart of learning. And it is through this long metamorphosis that I have finally realized that science isn’t hard to teach at all! Since science is all around us, in every part of everything we see and do every minute of every hour of our lives, if we can only give ourselves the freedom to indulge our natural curiosities we would be learning science.
But How Do I Teach Science??!
I know what you’re thinking: that you still don’t understand how to encourage scientific learning. Here’s something else I’ve learned since we began unschooling–creating opportunity for scientific learning and modeling scientific behaviors will stimulate curiosities in those around you, which facilitates the learning of science.
Creating Opportunity for Scientific Learning
Since science is all around us, creating opportunities for science is actually relatively easy, once you’ve broadened your perception of what science-education really is. Here are some ideas to get you started (remember the key is to capitalize on an individual’s natural curiosities, and present them with opportunities for learning).
- Organize nature walks with your family or with friends. Utilize a nearby park, or visit your nearest nature-center, state-park, or anywhere trails are available for hikers. This opens the door to opportunity for tree-study, botany, entomology (the study of bugs), bird-watching, rock collecting, identification of geologic features such as unique rock formations, investigation of rock strata, and so much more. Who knows where any one particular curiosity might lead you.
- Feed the critters in your backyard. Backyard birding is a very popular past-time, one that can bring your family joy and can lead to all sorts of scientific investigation. A spark of interest in birding can lead to bird identification, inquiry into which birds eat which bird-feeds and why, the principles of aviation, migration…A curiosity of the squirrels that rob your feeders could lead a person to study the creature, it’s habits and methods for survival, or to invent a squirrel-proof feeder.
- Allow your children to “play” or experiment with scientific tools. Thermometers, rulers, eye-droppers, measuring cups and spoons, even the microscope. Just the other day my children we taking the temperature of their chicken-and-stars soup and using an eye-dropper to eat the broth. Even such simple activities with science-tools will give the children better understanding of how to use these tools later on.
- Encourage your children to start a collection. Bugs, rocks, stamps, action-figures, comic books, whatever interests them. Collecting includes seeking, locating, acquiring, organizing, cataloging, displaying, storing, and maintaining the items within the set.
- If another child likes to tinker and take things apart you could scrounge old electronics, things he can take apart and reconstruct in new and interesting ways. Watch “How It’s Made” and “Junkyard Wars”. Look online for “Do-It-Yourself” projects.
- Make an occasion of it. Hold a star-gazing party, just for your family, or invite some friends; provide refreshments, trivia, read related stories. Or have a competition to see who can construct the best-defensible snow-fort and split into two groups for the prize. Have a picnic at the meadow or park and hold a competition to see who can collect the most species of butterflies in a day. Remember to record observations and make comparisons.
Modeling Scientific Behaviors
This is a prime opportunity to follow your own curiosities, all the while knowing you are presenting your children with a role model for a scientific lifestyle. Maybe you’re already practicing science and you just didn’t realize it. Gardening and cooking are both sciences that people use every day, yet they are so mundane to us that we rarely consider it science. Here are a few other suggestions to get you started in the right direction.
- Keep a nature journal for just yourself. This will hone your skills of observation, allow you to practice your drawing and writing skills, and is completely customizable.
- Track the weather from your home and record data on a chart for the whole family to see.
- Collecting rocks is a simple way to practice science–splurge on a new guide to Rocks & Minerals.
- Take up Birding–or herpetology, whatever creature it is you’re fascinated with.
- Press and collect plants. They would make a lovely collection, framed and mounted on your wall, or given as gifts.
- Wonder aloud about things as you go along in your day. Talk to your kids about why certain processes happen and how things work. If they want to know more you can run with it.
- Read science publications like Scientific American, Audubon, Mother Earth News, National Geographic, etc.
- Watch science programs and documentaries. There is a wide variety of science-program on television these days. “CSI”, “Meerkat Manor”, “Mythbusters”, “Planet Earth”, “Wild America” (do you remember that from our childhood years?? I always loved watching it on Sunday mornings with my brother and sister!), “How It’s Made”, etc.
This method of learning, where you follow your child’s natural curiosities, is known as child-led learning. Instead on making science lessons stressful as you struggle to follow the directions of a lesson plan, it is a laid-back method which encourages the true nature of science–and that is curiosity, intrigue, and inquiry. Once you discover your child’s inner-spark, that grain of curiosity, you can develop a whole unit-study around it that goes into as much detail as your child’s curiosity needs in order to be satisfied. Sometimes a simple explanation from you is all he will need to satisfy the intrigue, however sometimes, he will want a lot more–and that’s where the fun begins!
What is Science? – Fabulous resource from the folks at Berkeley, explains science and its many facets.
The Science of Everyday Life – article from suite101.com
Everyday Science – to get you thinking about the very basic science that exists in your life on a day to day basis.
Science in Daily Life – discusses some of the very important ways science has effected humanity and our everyday life.
Chemistry in Everyday Life – this is a long list of resources provided by About.com, regards exploring various household chemical reactions and investigating how things work.
Everyday Science: Sites, Activities, & Projects | Exploratorium – excellent resource for things to explore and things to do; everything form the science of cooking to skateboard science.