By Sophie Allnut, Co-Founder of Mini Professors (www.miniprofessors.co.uk)
It's difficult to escape science; it surrounds us every day from the smart phone that pings our messages to the clock radio that wakes us up in the morning; to the roast chicken we cooked last night, the raincoats we wear and the medication we rely on to treat illness. Life without science? Say what? The truth is, it would be difficult to imagine even a day untouched by science. Science itself is brilliant for children, in fact it is the perfect environment to encourage them to ask more questions, experiment, take calculated risks, make mistakes, celebrate success and to observe the wonder of the natural world around them.
Natural curiosity is a huge part of scientific development and something that children possess in abundance, which means they learn very quickly about the things that are directly accessible to their senses (i.e. visual, auditory, kinaesthetic). If children are encouraged to repeat hands on exercises whether experimenting, pouring liquids, threading beads or measuring substances, their confidence in handling and manipulation will also start to improve and grow, as will their fine motor skills. This is something I have been lucky enough to witness on many occasions and it never ceases to amaze me just how much little ones can learn about the world from the simplest of things.
Regular exposure to science is something that any parent can support on a daily basis and it is not as complex as it might seem either. The reality is, it is all about giving your children the headspace and freedom to explore and make their own observations and decisions; allowing them to succeed with praise and encouragement. Despite our inclination to 'dumb down' certain concepts, children can cope with challenging tasks, so long as they are attainable. Science by its nature is often judged by its complexity, but it is important to share scientific terms and phrases with your child even when it means using bigger more complicated words, because as your children hear those words more regularly and combine experiences, their knowledge and science vocabulary will naturally develop, which can be amazing to see.
That said it's no secret that children do have a shorter concentration span than adults! I'm a firm believer that no scientific topic should be completely out of bounds for children but it should be explained in very simple terms. As parents we can easily relate science to everyday objects and experiences and using hands on experiments to make science more interactive and engaging for children, means you can avoid overload of information.
What is wonderful to see is that children are continually excited and amazed by the simplest of things (or at least the things we as adults take for granted), the wonder of a magnet picking up a metal spoon, or simply watching an ice cube melting can be fascinating for them. They love getting involved in experiments too because they are so hands-on, they can get their hands dirty and make a mess while learning and exploring the world around them. This kind of science-based play is also ideal with small groups of children because it can help to support and develop many social skills too, such as listening, taking turns, sharing, making friends, speaking out and working together.
Whether your child loves to be in the midst of experimenting or prefers to stand back and observe, I believe that children are never too young to learn about science and the more exposure they have to it, the more familiar they will become with trying new things. The world of science is so much a part of our daily lives as adults but to our children every experience is so new and wonderful. It is easy to have fun with experiments and watch as your child progresses and develop new life-long skills.
Still not convinced? This is super easy stuff to explore, I'll prove it too. Just check out three of my suggested experiments to try at home - easy peasy!
1. 'I've got the power!'- Try rubbing an inflated balloon on your hair and showing your child how marvellous static electricity can be, by picking up pieces of tissue paper with the now 'charged-up' balloon.
2. 'Gooey fun' - Try mixing two parts cornflour, to one part water, to create a strange gooey substance called a colloid. It is solid when it is squeezed into a ball and moved around quickly but goes completely runny when you stop squeezing.
3. 'Volcanic explosion!'- Try making a simple volcano using an old water bottle. Simply fill it half full of vinegar, top it up with a little water and then add one teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda and watch it explode! You may even want to add a few drops of red food colouring to add to the effect of lava.