Learn how train your child to think like a scientist

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We Are Born Curious.

As children, one of the first words most of us learned was, “Why?”

We are all born with a natural curiosity.  We are born asking, "Why?" and thinking like scientists.

How many of us remember the stage when our own children reached the age of constant curiosity?  Virtually nothing could escape our kids’ attention.

I recently asked my friend with 5 young children if she could recall some of her kids’ recent questions.  In no time flat, she was able to list some of the questions that her children had just asked:

“Why does it rain?”

“Why do mommies have milk?”

“Why do we have to wear seatbelts?”

“Why do we bury people when they die?”

“Why don’t we eat horses?”

What incredible questions from inquisitive kids!

Experts tell us that during this stage of development, children are “innately and unendingly curious about the world and want to better understand the things they see, hear and do.”  They ask “Why?” in an effort to make sense of the world around them.

Most parents breathe a sigh of relief once their children get past the age of constant questions.  I know I did. It can be exhausting keeping up with their busy minds.

As children reach middle or high school, the questions may still come:

“Who sings this song?”

“Why are yawns contagious?”

“Why was the Fahrenheit temperature scale invented?”

“What is fire?”

“Why can’t you microwave metal?”

“Who has the right-of-way at a four-way stop?”

Unfortunately, it has been my experience that once kids get to be a certain age, the questions keep coming, but their innate need to know the answer seems to fade.

Despite that fact that kids today have access to a wealth of knowledge at their fingertips, more often than not, the questions are asked but never answered.

We need to change that.

When Did Your Child Stop Asking “Why?”

When did your child stop asking "Why?"
When did they lose their natural curiosity?

Do you know the one thing that the great inventors, explorers, and scientists had in common? 

They were each driven by their natural curiosity.

Consider Eratosthenes, a man from ancient Greece who wondered about the size of the earth.  To satisfy his curiosity, he conducted a series of experiments to find the answer.  His result was surprisingly accurate, especially considering that he performed his calculations in 240 BC.

There are many others we could consider:  Aristotle, Archimedes, Galileo, Leonardo da Vinci, Newton, Edison, Curie, Einstein.  The list goes on an on. Though the details vary, the underlying drive to understand how the world works is what drove these men and women forward.

I know it’s easy to get caught up thinking about what our kids need to know in order to succeed in school and in life.  As parents, especially for those of us who home-school, the job of educating our children can sometimes seem overwhelming.  We can literally spend hours poring over catalogs of curriculum, looking for the best resources to educate our kids.

How amazing would it be to inspire your children with a love of learning that would drive them to teach themselves? 

What if we could somehow tap into that natural curiosity that we are all born with? 

What if our kids could develop a habit of seeking the answers to their questions?

What if our children could become self-directed learners?

I believe it’s possible.

Train Your Child to Think Like a Scientist

Do you remember learning the Scientific Method in school?  It is the series of steps that scientists all over the world use to conduct experiments to learn more about how the universe works.

Thinking like a scientist involves using the scientific method to learn about the world around us

Do you remember the first step in the process?  Most people answer, “Form a hypothesis”, but that’s not it.  The first step is “Ask a question”. If we can get our kids asking questions, they are well on their way to thinking like scientists.

Make an Observation and Ask a Question

But before a question can be asked, one must make an observation. 

I think this may be one place where the disconnect happens for our older kids.  

Did you know that studies have shown that the typical child (from ages 8 to 18) spends an average of more than 7 hours a day in front of a screen? When our children spend a lot of time being entertained by TV and video games, they may not be taking time to observe the world outside of their screens.

In addition, the easy access we have to around-the-clock entertainment may lull us into complacency.  When we are constantly bombarded with information, why would we feel the need to put any real effort into seeking answers to our questions?

What’s the solution?

Encourage your kids to spend time in nature.  Every time I’m out in nature, I observe something that spikes my interest.

When I saw these tiny things that looked like birds nests, I wondered what they were.  Inspired by my natural curiosity, I researched and learned that they are tiny fungi.
I saw these tiny things that look like birds’ nests while on a walk. When I did some research, I learned that they are actually a type of fungus. The “eggs” are the fungal spores. When raindrops hit the “nest”, they launch the spores to a new location. Once there, they grow into new birds’ nest fungi.

Allow them the opportunity to be bored!  Remember: these are the same kids who once had more fun with the empty boxes that their gifts came in than they did with the gifts themselves.

Here’s a shocker: boredom can be good for you! Studies have even demonstrated that being bored triggers us to be more creative. So don’t feel like your kids need to be constantly entertained.

Conduct Research to Learn More

When our kids do observe something that stimulates a question, how do you (or they) respond?

While it’s appropriate to provide answers when children are young, as they get older, encourage them to find the answer themselves.

With computers, smartphones and smart devices, we truly have the world at our fingertips. In this day and age, there shouldn’t be a reason for any of us to ever wonder something and not search for the answer. 

If your child isn’t ready to navigate the internet, there are other fantastic sources of information.  Make sure your kids have access to books, encyclopedias, magazines, and their local library. In my house, we have shelves of books at the ready for any questions that may arise, most which were purchased for deep discounts at used book sales.  

Model the process of thinking like a scientist for your children.  

Demonstrate the process of using the internet, books, or videos to search for answers to your questions. Let them see that when you’re curious about something, you won’t be satisfied until you find the answer. 

Form a Hypothesis and Test It

Most questions can be quickly answered with an internet search or encyclopedia. The ability to conduct research to answer questions is an important skill that will serve our children for years to come. But sometimes, the questions our kids ask may be better answered through experimentation.

A digital pocket scale is an excellent tool for your home science kit.  Your students will be able to investigate whatever topic sparks their natural curiosity.

Prepare yourself for a silly example.

We have diet soda drinkers in my family. One day, two members of my family asked me to get them sodas from the pantry while I was up. They wanted different flavors. As I picked up the two cans of soda, I could tell that one felt lighter than the other, despite the fact that they were the same volume. I wondered if this was actually the case, but it wasn’t something I could easily answer with an internet search. So what did I do? I grabbed the digital pocket scale from my science supply closet. I measured one of the diet sodas and then the other. Know what? I was right. One of the diet sodas really did weigh less than the other. Know something else? I felt vindicated! It felt surprisingly satisfying to follow the process from observation to hypothesis to experimentation to result.

My observation that my dog didn't seem able to see the color orange inspired me to research whether dogs see colors the same way that we do. Because I've learned to think like a scientist, my natural curiosity drove me to find the answer

Here’s another one.

My dog is a food hound and is always in the kitchen when she hears someone cooking. Her eyes monitor the floor, and if anything gets dropped, she gobbles it down in no time. The funny thing is, as much as she adores cheese, I noticed that she didn’t respond when I dropped shredded cheddar cheese on the floor. If I pointed it out to her, she’d eat it. But to me, she seemed not to be able to see the cheddar cheese. Was it a matter of her not being able to see the color orange?

I happened to have some shredded carrots in the fridge. I dropped some on the floor in front of her. Once again, she didn’t respond. At that point, I was fairly certain she was not able to see the color orange well. Was this specific to her, or do all dogs have trouble seeing the color orange? This fascinated me enough to research it further. I wrote a blog post on what I found.

Do you see how easy it is?  You don’t have to go out of your way to discover things to question.  You are surrounded by curiosities every day; you just have to take the time to notice.

Make sure your kids have access to tools they can use to experiment and answer their questions. These tools don’t have to be expensive! They can be as simple as a birdwatching book and a set of binoculars. There’s so much your kids can do with a simple magnifying glass! Did you know that your kids can make a pH indicator from red cabbage and use it to test which substances around the house are acids or bases? If you do want to purchase lab kits or supplies, Home Science Tools* is one of my favorite sites. They sell everything you could want for science at home, from glassware and chemicals to dissection specimens and microscopes.

When you give your kids the opportunities to experiment and satisfy their own curiosity, they will love it. The feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction that comes from self-directed learning is a powerful motivator that will lead them to want to continue. Pretty soon, this will snowball and your kids will be well on their way to educating themselves about the things that interest them most.

What Are You Waiting For?

There’s no time like the present to begin training your child to think like a scientist.

If your kid needs a bit of inspiration to get his or her mind wandering, check out these ideas:

  • Fireflies put on a nightly light show each summer evening.  But why do fireflies only show up during the warm months? Where do they go during the fall and winter?
  • What causes the hiccups?
  • Have you noticed that if one person in the room yawns, it seems to set off a chain reaction?  Are yawns contagious? If so, why?
  • Why is some snow better for forming snowballs and making snowmen than other snow?
  • What causes eyeglasses to fog up when you step outside on a hot day?
  • Where does the mold that appears on a loaf of bread inside a bag come from?
  • What is the biological purpose for goosebumps?
  • Why does hair turn gray?
  • Is it true that mosquitoes are attracted to some people more than others?
  • What is the reason that certain flowers stink?
  • Is it better to dry your hands with paper towels or a hand blower when in the public bathroom?

The possibilities to explore are truly endless!

Come back and share your stories of the ways your kids are thinking like scientists!

Further Information:

I love the Merlin Bird ID app! I have it on my phone, and use it all the time to help me identify the birds I see.

See an interesting bug and want to identify it? On this site, you can search for insects by state.

This is a video that I love to show my students when we talk about the scientific method. It shows how the brilliant scientist and inventor Archimedes solved a problem that was puzzling him.

This video describes the ways boredom can be good for you.

How amazing would it be to inspire your children with a love of learning that would drive them to teach themselves?  What if we could somehow tap into that natural curiosity that we are all born with? What if our kids could develop a habit of seeking the answers to their questions?  What if our children could become self-directed learners? I believe it's possible when you encourage your child to think like a scientist.

*As an affiliate for Amazon and Home Science Tools, I may earn a commission if you use my affiliate link to make a purchase. This doesn’t affect your price in any way, but helps me with the cost of maintaining my website so that I may continue to share resources to help you understand, teach, and love science.

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