Remember the book “How Things Work”? Nowadays, it’s easy to bring the book to life. There are so many wonderful museums (with family free days) and university-sponsored family science events specifically geared toward giving kids hands-on experience with science. Not only are these experiences the best way to build familiarity and confidence with topics that they will later learn in school -- an open-ended environment promotes the experimentation and “what if?” investigation that leads to creativity.
The best way to let young minds experience the exhibits is to follow their interests (read: follow them around the museum and let them explore activities at their own pace). Occasionally you might suggest a special program that is happening at a specific time, but for the most part, let them drive the agenda for the day.
Watch them explore – you’ll learn a lot about their learning style, interests and how they interact with others. If you find yourself getting restless, try a few exhibits yourself. Then you can authentically express enthusiasm when you turn to your child and say, “Hey, try this. It’s cool”!
As kids get older, a trip to the science museum may seem juvenile. But often what kids are learning in school is excellently illustrated in the exhibits that the museum has constructed and geared toward younger children. Challenge your older “know-it-all”s by asking them to explain the science behind an exhibit to a younger sibling, or to find a display that they would improve to make it “cooler” for kids their age. You can also ask them to seek out an exhibit that teaches them something new, or tell them to think about topics or ideas for their next science fair project.
If you want to turn your backyard or kitchen into a hands-on science lab, there are plenty of websites with suggestions for activities you can do at home and in your neighborhood to spark kids’ curiosity about (and confidence with) science. Here are links to a few of them (they are great sources for science fair ideas, too):