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Raising scientifically literate children is a process

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Science is all around us. Nearly everything we do has a scientific implication. We are a nation of citizens that depends greatly on science. Parents and educators can do many things to build a love and respect for science in our children.

What does it mean to be scientifically literate?

Scientifically literate children have and continue to develop the critical thinking skills necessary for academic success. Scientifically literate citizens understand the importance of science in their daily lives, can evaluate public policy decisions, and make informed decisions about science reports in the media.

Teachers talk about hands-on science. What are they talking about? What does it mean for my child?

Often in the past, science was only defined as reading the text and answering questions about the science content or watching the instructor demonstrate a science experiment. Teachers still use these strategies, but now we also see children using “hands-on” materials, learning about science first-hand and conducting experiments themselves. Under the guidance of teachers, students experience the excitement of observing scientific phenomena directly.

What if my child’s teacher doesn’t seem to teach science?

Ask questions to find out why that is. Often teachers integrate science with other subjects and so you may only think science is not taught. Hands-on science takes much organizing and many consumable materials. Offer to collect cotton balls, straws, paper plates, and other materials needed for an effective science program. Volunteer to help out during your child’s science class or offer to share your scientifically related hobby or job with your child’s class. If you’re a gardener or an engineer, share what you know.

What can I do to encourage my child?

Foster your child’s natural curiosity. Take a 10-minute walk around the backyard, your neighborhood, or a local park. Start a collection of natural items such as leaves. Take the leaves home and identify the trees they came from (visit The National Arbor Day Foundation at www.arborday.org for help.) You and your child can make rubbings of the leaves by placing white or notebook paper over the leaves and using a crayon to rub over the paper. You should see an imprint of the leaf on the paper. Create a journal by writing one or two sentences that describe what you and your child observed. Read the journal as a bedtime story.

Take your child to a museum or a nature center. Many cities and towns have museums, technology exhibits and nature centers designed specifically for children. If there isn’t a center or museum in your town, take a virtual field trip on your home computer or a computer in the library.  

Visit:

n Exploratorium: The Museum of Science, Art and Human Perception – www.exploratorium.edu

n Oregon Museum of Science and Industry – www.omsi.edu

n American Museum of Natural History presents Ology – http://ology.amnh.org

n Dive and Discover: Exhibitions to the Sea Floor (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) – www.divediscover.whoi.edu

n DuPage Children’s Museum – www.dupagechildrensmuseum.org/kdn

n Current Science and Technology Center at the Museum of Science of Boston – www.mos.org/cst

Consider a camp that focuses on science or technology. If your child is interested in space, the US Space and Rocket Center holds week-long space camps (www.spacecamp.com) for children ages 9-18 and in honor of the United States’ first woman astronaut, Sally Ride, a special parent/daughter weekend program is specifically designed for girls between 7 and 11 years of age. Visit www.sallyridecamp.com.

Other things you can do.

n Encourage your child to take science every year she’s in high school.  Typically, colleges are looking for students who take two to four years of laboratory science.

n Take family time and do an experiment together. It can be as simple as filling up the kitchen sink with water and testing items to see what sinks and what floats or shaking heavy cream in a jar until it turns to butter. 

Ask your child to predict what will happen before doing the test and ask why he thought it happened after the test.

What if I do an experiment with my child and she asks a question and I don’t know the answer?

That’s OK. In fact, that’s what science is all about – finding out the answers to questions that we have and things we wonder about.

Say, “I’ve often wondered that myself. How do you think we could find the answer to that question?” Then, look for the answer together.

Help your child choose a book from the National Science Teacher’s Association’s list of Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12. 

The NSTA has published these lists since 1996. Access them at www.nsta.org/ostbc.

Helping your child build science skills will also, at the same time, help them build general reasoning and problem-solving skills. 

Those skills can transfer to every subject, and therefore helping your child to succeed in all aspects of school and life.

Courtesy of the LaRue County Education Association, in conjunction with the National Education Association