From flipping a rock to see what’s crawling beneath it to inspecting the colors of a rainbow, parents can help kids learn science beyond the classroom in a variety of ways.
Kids are naturally curious in the world around them – which makes scientific discovery a natural fit.
So, how can you help nurture your little ones’ budding interest in science flourish?
To get a better sense, we asked two long-time Detroit teachers for their tips for helping kids learn science beyond the classroom.
Charles Merrell is lead educator at the Detroit Children’s Museum and a former Detroit Public Schools science teacher.
And Sally Roberts has served as assistant professor of math education at Wayne State University and directed the GO-GIRL (Gaining Options: Girls Investigate Real Life) program from 2002 to 2018, giving seventh-grade girls free exposure to STEM education and related careers.
Build a science kit
The dollar store can be a great starting place for basic gear, says Merrell – which could be as simple as “an old bag, a jar, a butterfly net, a magnifying glass or tweezers.”
With a kit, you and your kids will be ready to inspect that fuzzy insect or shiny frog in a safe, fun way.
Encouraging kids to construct things at home with you is a great way to get them thinking about problem solving.
From Legos to 3D puzzles, many family toys and games are both educational and fun, Roberts says.
Start a collection
It helps encourage scientific thinking, whether it’s playing with bouncy balls or bottle caps.
“Kids love to collect things,” says Merrell. “You can classify things in different ways, comparing and contrasting their colors, shapes and sizes.”
And if they don’t have a collection? Start one together!
Plant a garden
Gardening with your kids not only helps them better understand the life cycle of plants – it also provides an opportunity for them to make a hypothesis about what might work best for the plant, says Merrell.
“Plant some (seeds) in the sand vs. soil, or in the shade vs. sunlight, so they can test what actually works.” During the colder months, set up a few pots near a windowsill for a little indoor experimenting.
Let kids drive it
Children have innate curiosity, but as they get older that can dwindle. One way to get kids geeked about science is to put them in touch with young people pursuing careers in the field, says Roberts.
“That is always a key point in math and science – they need to be able to relate to it,” she says. “Science is pretty easy to sell.”
Mix it up
Most parents recall the classic science fair project where carbon dioxide – created by mixing baking soda and vinegar – erupts out of a volcano’s vent. If you haven’t given it a try, definitely start there.
Then, switch up this experiment. Mix the ingredients in a pop bottle and stick a balloon over the top, says Merrell. This shows how quickly the liquid changes to a gas in a very visual way.
“Go outside every day,” says Merrell. “We need to expose kids to experiences that will help them develop that curiosity.”
From the Michigan Science Center in Detroit to the Cranbrook Institute of Science in Bloomfield Hills to the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum, there are so many cool options to explore with your family.
“Go not just once, but often, to museums so kids don’t get overwhelmed,” advises Roberts.
Life is busy, and there won’t always be time for family science activities unless you designate it.
“Pick a special place and time to do science to make it more meaningful,” says Merrell. That way, everyone can begin to look forward to it.
Surf the web
There are heaps of websites with fun science activities and games families can enjoy together, says Roberts. Instead of watching TV together, try something interactive. A good start? Try these 15 Fun Science Activities on Kid Activities Blog.
This post was originally published in 2014 and is updated regularly.