Four-year-old Deepa was eating an orange. She would put a segment into her mouth, separate the seeds and then spit them out. However, once, instead of spitting out the seeds, she swallowed them. In panic, she ran to her mother screaming, “Mamma, an orange tree would sprout on my head.” Sitting in her mother’s lap, little Deepa explained everything. Laughing at her daughter’s innocence, Deepa’s mother reassured her that nothing of that sort would happen and that she can go on and finish her orange. She never bothered to remove Deepa’s misconceptions by explaining the facts to her.
Contrast this with the story of the mother of the great scientist Thomas Alva Edison. It is said that young Thomas returned home from school one day with a letter from his teacher. Upset by Thomas’ persistent questions, the teacher wrote that he was an ‘addled’ child and should not be sent to school. Instead of believing the teacher’s words, his mother took it upon herself to teach her son. Years later, with the help of his mother’s home-schooling, the ‘addled’ boy grew up to become one of the most brilliant scientists of all time.
Children are curious, observant and eager to learn by nature. Also, they actively engage with the environment around them to try and understand what is going on. All these attributes make them ideal candidates to learn science. However, their attitude towards learning science also depends on how parents influence and mould their thinking.
Here are some ways through which you can encourage your child to develop an interest in science.
1. From the known to the unknown: While children are good at observing everything, the lack of knowledge makes it difficult for them to comprehend the happenings around them. As a result, they try to come up with their own concept from their own experiences, which are wrong most of the time. For example, if you ask your child why she can’t see the Sun at night. She may answer that the Sun goes to sleep like everyone else. So, if you want to explain to your child why she can’t see the Sun at night, first ask her to explain her thoughts about it. This will help you understand what your child thinks and mould your explanation to suit her needs and dispel her wrong notions. Once your child understands a concept, she will be more enthusiastic and interested in learning about more such concepts.
2. The more I see, the more I learn: While books are good for teaching science to children in higher classes, young children find it difficult to understand various concept through words. So, use images, diagrams and other such visual aids to help explain the various concepts you want your child to learn. Colourful pictures make learning an interesting and enjoyable activity. Remember, the more you make it easier for your child to understand, the more he will want to explore and learn.
3. Hand in hand we walk together: Although green spaces in our cities are shrinking, there are still some spots where you can go with your child to enjoy a nature walk. Such outings will help you explain about the weather patterns, the different seasons, the changes happening in the environment, and the various fauna and flora around us. Most children tend to enjoy such outings and look forward to it. They perceive it as a meaningful activity which is connected closely to their life. Also, nature walks give city dwellers the much-needed physical activity.
4. Inquire and discover: Nowadays, there are many kits available in the market that claim to be effective in helping a child learn science. Most parents present their children with these kits and hope that their child will start learning science. However, trying to learn on his own places a lot of burden on a child’s understanding abilities and is, therefore, not the best way to teach anything. Use an inquiry-based method to teach science to your child. Guide your child towards the answer by asking questions which encourages him to think. Allow him some time to try and come up with an answer before answering it yourself. In due course, this strategy will encourage your child to ask questions and seek answers on his own. It will also motivate him to explore more complex concepts as he grows up.
5. Break stereotypes and promote the growth mindset: The general opinion about science is that it is a boring and complex subject, that only the most intelligent can understand it, and that boys do better than girls when it comes to learning science. Teach your child that increase in our intelligence is proportional to the effort we put in to learn. So, anyone who wants to learn science can do so with some effort.
Learning science helps children understand the hows and whys of the world around them. It also helps them develop skills like inquiry-based approach, rational thinking and deducing from facts. As children grow up, they will apply these skills to other aspects of his life as well. So, set your child on the path of great scientists like C V Raman, Homi J Bhabha, and Albert Einstein by encouraging his scientific spirit.
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