Local dad Howard George always brings a telescope when he goes camping with his family. The father of two and Michigan Science Center technical coordinator knows the importance of instilling a love of science in his children, but he also knows better than to force the issue.
So the telescope comes along on trips to the U.P. with the hope of sneaking in a glimpse at a meteor shower or constellation after a long day of fun at the beach. Lessons in natural science also come easily while camping as they notice maple trees, talk about animals and discern between different types of bugs.
“I’m not trying to teach them science, I’m trying to create an interest, ignite a spark,” George says of his kids, ages 7 and 9. “I think I have done that.”
Young kids, after all, can’t necessarily relate to the science topics parents might recall from their high school or college science courses.
“I just try to keep them aware and interested in science in their everyday lives,” he says.
Today’s focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields has many parents looking for ways to help their kids be “science smart.” Whether it’s to help them place into higher-level science classes or prepare for a future career, fostering a love of science in kids of all ages is an understandable priority for many moms and dads, and camping trips are just one of many ways to spark an interest.
Consider these additional tips from the experts at the Michigan Science Center, a hands-on museum in Detroit that inspires curious minds of all ages to discover, explore and appreciate STEM.
1. Follow their interests
Do your kids have a passion for epic stories of space travel in a galaxy far, far away? Use it to your advantage.
“When they want to talk about things they like, like Star Wars, that’s your opening to astronomy and other STEM topics,” says George, who uses his son’s love of the film series to launch science discussions.
Of course, a different approach might work better for the other kids in your family. “What works for one will never work for the other,” he laughs.
2. Encourage questions
Kids are full of questions. Encourage your child’s natural curiosity and don’t be afraid if you don’t know the answer. In fact, George says he and his kids make it a game to ask questions and then research the answers.
“Their first questions were, ‘Do dolphins fart?’ and, ‘How far away is the moon?'” he says. Those were followed by questions about Taylor Swift, like when her next album would be coming out.
“They’re learning about databases, the Internet and computers and they’re learning the answers to their questions,” George says. “And dolphins do fart, by the way.”
3. Try simple experiments
For Michelle LeRoy, lead presenter at the Michigan Science Center, being “science smart” means having a desire to learn, experiment and get hands-on. Whether she’s at home with her 5-year-old son or at work, LeRoy finds that simple experiments and informal play go a long way in getting kids thinking about science.
“As a parent I think the biggest thing is, don’t be afraid to try stuff. Even small experiments can make a big difference,” she says.
It could be as simple as filling balloons with different volumes of air and guessing which one will stay in the air the longest.
“You can even look at a deck of cards and think, ‘How do you think they made it, how did they design it?'” she says. “A magnet on a fridge is science. Why does it stick to your fridge and not your wooden cabinets? It’s easier and more effective than trying to sit down and do a lesson.”
4. Make the most of screen time
You might be surprised at how much educational programming you can find on TV or on YouTube. George says he tries to reserve screen time for shows on PBS’s Nature series, Mythbusters, documentaries and educational clips on YouTube. And, they’re not just for children. “I watch it with them,” he says.
5. Visit science centers
At the Michigan Science Center, kids can discover that that STEM is all around them with more than 250 hands-on exhibits, live demonstrations, theater shows, lab spaces and more. This video of the top things to do at the Michigan Science Center is a great place to start before planning a visit.
Even the youngest visitors benefit from a science center trip. Kids Town at the Michigan Science Center is a popular gallery just for those 5 years old and younger. “You’re never too young, or too old, for science,” LeRoy says. “Science centers are the perfect place for curious minds of all ages to learn and grow.”
A MiSci membership offers free or reduced admission to more than 300 affiliated science centers through the Association of Science-Technology Centers, a benefit that George’s family takes advantage of while traveling.
“My daughter takes a lot of pride in the fact that she’s been to all these planetariums and science centers, and that has given her an interest. She feels like she’s halfway to earning her degree to be an astronaut,” he says. “You only have to pay for one membership and you get access to science centers around the world for free or at a reduced price, so that’s exactly what we do.”
Metro Parent readers also have access to a great deal on their next Michigan Science Center visit. Check out this Michigan Science Center coupon.