A week or so ago this video of Neil deGrasse Tyson came across my twitter feed (the first minute is the most relevant);
A couple days later I went to check on Melia, my 6 year old, in the bath. The conditioner pump had stopped working, and she had disassembled it and was pumping water through it to try to clean it out. “I think this (points at some possibly stuck conditioner in the tube) is why it isn’t working.” Then she asked for something long and skinny, I found a toothpick, and she used it to clean the pump tube out. She put it back together and it worked (at least better than before, still not 100%).
Then yesterday she wanted to do an experiment with the rocks we have frozen in water in ice cube trays. (aside: Why do we have rocks frozen in ice cube trays, you ask? That would be a question for our babysitter from the other day…) She wanted to see how the ice melts with the rocks in them. Through a bit of conversation (I really have to get better at recording these conversations), she decided to put cubes in 3 different bowls in 3 different locations; inside, in the shade outside, and in the sun outside. She started putting them in some containers, and I suggested that she use the same container style for each one, so everything was the same except the locations. Then she put them in the various locations, and we added a tray with regular ice cubes for comparison.
Melia decided that the tray outside in the shade melted faster, based on very quick qualitative observations. My wife tried asking her why she thought so (“What observations led you to that conclusion, honey?”), but Melia was already onto the next thing. Which is fine, because it’s not about the result right now.
I want my kids to be curious, and stay curious. In both these situations, Melia formulated a question, designed a way mostly on her own to test that question, and carried out the investigation. We just largely got out of the way (with a few suggestions to plant the seeds about control variables and a control comparison).
In another example of how kids can drive the conversation through their curiosity, I received this email from Christopher, author of Talking Math With Kids;
A proper subset of the questions Tabitha asked on our recent camping trip:
-How does mosquito repellent work?
-What if mosquitos adapted and started to like bug repellent?
-If the water is orange, how come it looks so blue? (It looked orange straight down and blue on the horizon)
-Could a spider make a web in your armpit? (referring to the triangular space created when placing your hand on your hip)
-Is it illegal to kill ants on purpose?
-Does fire hurt ants?
-Even fire ants?
-How do ducks decide who to marry?
Some of these questions led to discussion and speculation, some did not. None led to googling, as we were in the North Woods.
I love that I can see Tabitha’s curiosity and, in some cases, thought process. She likely thought about fire hurting ants because of their name, fire ants, but asked about fire hurting them first. Tabitha can formulate questions, and Christopher is a master of eliciting conversation with his kids; he recognizes here that some of these questions were worthy of further investigation, and some can be left unanswered. In my last post on this blog we used real life to motivate Googling for information. That worked in that scenario, but I in no way want to encourage Googling as the first line of defense in Doing Science with Your Kids. The big thing is to let them question, let them think, speculate, and be curious. Don’t worry about answers/results/correctness.They may make a mess; they may do things differently than you would. Let their curiosity thrive.
Just get out of their way.