Raising a child that isn’t science phobic is an amazing accomplishment. I think about raising sciencephilic kids using what is called the ECC Trilogy by Eric Jolly, Patricia Campbell, and Leslie Perlman. The trilogy lays out what kids need at all ages to become scientists: Engagement, Continuity, and Capacity. Engagement is the excitement or “spark” that leads to interest and passion, Continuity refers to a student seeing pathways from where they are now to where they want to be, and Capacity is the content knowledge, critical thinking skills, scientific processes, and vocabulary to be successful at reaching the next level.
I like this framework because it is helpful to program designers like myself, but it can help parents round out their child’s science experiences. I also like it because it honors the fun and excitement of science, role models, and making informed choices about school courses.
In elementary school, most kids should be exploring and seeing as many different scientifically relevant environments as possible. This is a relatively easy since there are great resources to help parents find science all around them. One of my favorite resources is from Math + Science = Success. Their guides help parents find everyday science activities, follow along with what their child should be learning in school, and hints for important math and science milestones.
Another great source of inspiration is just about to come online as Scientific American Launches in early May, check out Mariette DiChristina’s, a parent and Editor in Chief of SciAm, guest post where she describes the initiative.
As a child enters middle school, it becomes increasingly important to find them a diverse range of activities that expose them to the different fields of science, gives them challenging content and new vocabulary, and allows them to find role models to pattern themselves after. Middle school is a critical age for students to build their science vocabulary, learn how to find their own resources like great non-fiction science books, and choose the right math class that will prepare a child for high school math. It is also important for parents to find a diverse range of fun science activities that are highly social. I know that the right math class is key to success but I also know that establishing social skills are vital to the teamwork nature of science and building a science identity.
When parents ask me about programs for their children, I send them to the Connect a Million Minds “Connectory” where you enter your zip code and it generates a list of programs in your area. Most local organizations, such as a YMCA or Boys and Girls club with have an afterschool science program so google “afterschool science and your town name”.
By the time kids get to high school, they should share the responsibility in finding their science activities as it is important that they establish their interests and learn how to interact with scientists. Most parents who call me think that their child should be placed in a research setting, working alongside real scientists. Finding a mentor is one of the most challenging tasks for parents who aren’t connected to the professional scientific world. Teachers often struggle to find enough placements for their top students and parents are left on their own with little idea of where to start.
But let me stop for a second and give my honest opinion about this matter: Lab placements are not the right choice for most children. I’ve outlined some steps below to help you gauge whether it’s the right choice for your child.
The first step is to have your child identify areas that they want to research. Some good questions to ask are:
- Are there scientists whose work you really like?
- Are there particular social problems or issues that you’d like to look into?
- Have any recent news stories caught your eye?
Most kids have no idea what specific area they want to study, so this part can be hard. Having them identify something that caught their attention at least gives you and them a few search terms and a path to follow.
If you have trouble finding a specific area of interest, your child might not be ready for a research placement and you should check out summer, weekend, and afterschool opportunities in your area. A class at the zoo or Saturday program at the local Y can do wonders for helping students find an area of interest.
If you do find an area of interest, look for college faculty who study that particular area. Generally, professors are incredibly helpful in answering questions or directing you to the right person. Another option is to look to your local university for precollege and summer programs. The best way to find them is to google “outreach science and the name of the local university”.
Another place to look is the Science Training Directory for Teachers and Students. It lists research programs by geographical area that work with high school kids preparing for science research activities.
Raising a child who loves science can seem daunting but luckily in the Internet- age, programs and ideas can just be a few clicks away (if you know what to look for).
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