My seven-year-old is interested in science. Mostly geology, but he has for years been inclined to very seriously suggest that we do experiments. And he means the real kind, not just messing about and calling it an experiment. He wants to follow instructions and follow as much of the scientific method as you get for kids his age. He wants to know why things happen the way they do, which I cannot always tell him but do my level best to. What I’ve taken to doing with him is getting books to cover the gaps in my knowledge—and showing him old YouTube videos of Mr. Wizard’s World, which I watched a lot of as a child.
There’s a lot of science of various of the shows he watches, but it’s extremely elementary stuff, and he’s already beyond most of it. “What systems are” is great and all, but right now, he’s watching Don Herbert, Mr. Wizard as was, explain how a fluorescent tube works. I’m not sure his three-year-old sister gets it, but there are other bits on this show that I’m equally sure she has understood. Simon has a bit of frustration with how long it takes Herbert to get around to explaining the why of whatever he’s watching, and sometimes he wants to know more than the show is telling him, but he really enjoys the show.
We haven’t really gotten around to Bill Nye the Science Guy much, though he’s seen a bit, but he responds to it much the same way. He really likes knowing the how and why of science. Not filtered down for his perceived intellectual capacity but actually using words like “expand” and “watt.” The shows he watches use “unit,” and they use “unit” interchangeably regardless of what measurements they’re doing, and I honestly think that’s more confusing to him than just, you know, teaching him measurements.
And, sure, Simon’s in his school’s gifted program to the surprise of no one who knows him, and I’m sure Irene will be when she’s old enough too. However, I do genuinely believe that “seriously, this is science” was a better way of teaching kids science. And there’s a place for “here’s how science interacts with the world,” too—yes, engineering is applied use of scientific principles and a car’s braking system will involve science. However, I’m not entirely sure the kids grasp the connection when they aren’t presented with people doing science.
There are other science shows I remember from my childhood; there’s one called Newton’s Apple that my sisters and I loved. But I feel like we’re shortchanging our kids by not showing them how real science works. And, yeah, science for babies. On the other hand, you can, especially on Mr. Wizard’s World, see the kids starting to really think scientifically. A clip we’re watching this morning is about the science of straws, and the look on a kid’s face when he’s presented with a two-meter straw and asked if he thinks he can suck grape juice higher than his own height is something worth showing a kid, if for no other reason than to get them to think of how far two meters is.