Growing Scientists

by: Camie Madsen

Do you have a budding scientist (or two or three) at home? It's easy to combine a little science into your child's outside play and library visits.

My son has always been passionate about science, ever since he was two-years old and discovered how much fun rocks are to collect. We'd go for a walk around the block and he'd come home with his pockets full of little treasures. He has always loved all-things-science-related and dreams of becoming a professional scientist someday.

When we first began our homeschooling journey, my son was 6-years old and we took a very relaxed, child-led, discovery-approach to learning. I call this, unschooling, because I let my child's natural curiosity guide each day. To reinforce my son’s interest in science, we took advantage of what came naturally to us, or in other words, things we were already doing. No matter what approach you take to homeschooling, these ideas can inspire the budding scientists in your family:

My son loves being outdoors, and especially when he was younger, we’d make time for outside exploration nearly every day. What better way to watch Mother Nature in action than to simply go outside and see what's happening in your own back (or front) yard? Chances are, your child will find a colony of ants, a caterpillar, a ladybug, a creepy, but fascinating spider or a frog to watch in action. Or take your child on a nature walk/hike or to a nearby park that offers a woodsy area, whatever is close to your home. When we lived in Ontario, Canada, our neighborhood had a walking path with a stream running alongside it. We always spotted frogs and dragonflies there, which led us to lightly studying frogs, including their life cycles and habitats.

You can have your child create a nature journal if that interests them. They can fill a notebook with observations, drawings, pressed flower petals or leaves, even photographs if you allow them to use a camera. Or your child might like to make a simple nature collection. Don't forget the rock collection if your child is anything like mine. Or maybe your child loves birds, and would appreciate bird watching. These kinds of activities can help your child practice their observation and classification skills. And you never know what will inspire further research, especially for older children. My son looked for a rock and mineral book at the library once so he could identify his rocks and ended up learning all sorts of fascinating things pertaining to rocks and minerals.

What about science related outdoor play? We actually did a lot of outside activities related to physics this past homeschool year. One of the activities was to mark a starting line on the sidewalk with chalk and then walk a certain distance, then mark a finishing line. After that, my son kept track of how many jumps, hops, skips, etc. he could do within that set distance. Other science play could include obstacle courses, miniature parachute drops, testing the speed of different kinds of balls, even learning how to properly toss and catch a Frisbee. Don't forget water/sand/dirt play, especially if your child can mix and match different elements to see what happens. Bubbles are always a hit, too. The trick is to inspire your children to ask questions and then discover the answers themselves as they play. How do you create the biggest bubble? What happens when water and sand mix? What is the best way to toss/catch a Frisbee? 

Do your kids love the library?  The next time you visit, guide them to the non-fiction section. There are all kinds of science goodies in the non-fiction section. We discovered books chalk full of interesting facts and explanations about volcanoes, tornadoes, weather, ocean life, mammals, insects, rain forests, rocks and minerals, etc. etc. etc. Biographies about famous scientists are great too. We also borrowed The Magic School Bus videos and National Geographic documentaries. But, don't forget the children's section. Challenge your child to find storybooks that relate to science. It's easier than it sounds, especially if it's a story about an animal in its habitat or contrasts, such as big and small.

But what about science experiments? Does your child crave science experiments? Mine does and I've learned that I don't have to be an expert or spend a lot of money to give him hands-on science fun. It does require a bit of planning-ahead if you need to recycle a common household item or purchase an inexpensive item from the store, and it may require adult supervision, but I think that's the fun part! My son likes to create his own science videos. I am usually his director and camera-mom all rolled into one. We've learned that science experiments were meant to repeat over again. That's part of the learning process. Encourage your child to think outside the box and do something a little different next time to see if it the results are better, worse or the same. This is a great time to introduce a science notebook, for your child to jot down their predictions, observations and end results.

So, where do we find our science experiment ideas? There are, of course, science experiment books specifically for kids and believe me, we have quite the collection in our home library, but our favorite resource is just a mouse-click away:

We love Steve Spangler Science! Most of my son's experiments come from this website, which features step-by-step instructions and fun video demonstrations. Although you can purchase all sorts of science goodies from the online store, there are many experiment ideas which let you gather your own supplies.

Another website to visit is, Science Kids, which covers all sorts of science topics, including experiment ideas.

So, there you have it! Just take what you're already doing and step it up a notch, and before you know it, your budding scientists will be little science experts!