Today my 4 year old Aden was sharpening pencils.
He told me that the pencil was getting longer as he sharpened. I realized he was talking about the lead ‘extending’ out of the wood.
He had seen something happen and came to a logical-to-him , though wrong, conclusion.
As a high school physics teacher, this is fascinating to me. My kids come into my class with all kinds of strongly held, yet incorrect, beliefs about physics, and this phenomena is widely documented in other sciences as well. So how can doing science with your kids help?
Get them to ask questions.
I modeled science for Aden by designing a quick ‘experiment’; we found a pencil where there was a letter close to where the wood was showing. I asked him to predict what would happen to the space from the wood to the letter. “It will get bigger.” He really thought the pencil grew! So then we sharpened the pencil, and I asked him what happened to the space. “It got smaller!” The dissonance between what he thought would happen and what actually happened opened up the possibility for him that another explanation was possible, and more data, the wood shavings in the sharpener, helped confirm it for him.
I’ve often thought about simply teaching my kids the ‘right’ science (that a plant gets it’s mass from the air, that when you go around a corner the seat and seat belt is actually pushing you towards the center of the circle, etc), but I think that would really cheapen the experience for them. Instead I want to train my kids to always look beyond face value of any experience, ask questions, and make sure that a variety of data and experience supports their conclusions.
I think that can start as early as a conversation about a growing pencil with a 4 year old.