To develop this curiosity and awe about how things work and appreciate this amazing planet we are on, we have to develop a scientific attitude in our child. Children are so open and ever questioning, never taking things for granted. In school we had to introduce ‘States of Matter’ to kids and after various activities the kids had come to a conclusion that solids have a definite shape. I suddenly had a young teacher come to my room saying: “Neena, I am flummoxed this kid wants to know whether a shadow is solid, liquid or gaseous!” I was so tickled to see how the child thinks and had to explain that a shadow is a phenomenon and not matter. Ah! That took a few experiments to convince him, but I was happy that the whole class had to go through this exercise. Often it is these questioners who set us thinking.
Make experiments and hands-on science activities a part of everyday activities, like growing plants from a seed. The classical experiment: Put seeds in four different cups. Place one in the light, the second in the dark, to the third give no water and the fourth no soil.
Watch birds, butterflies, frogs and lizards in your area, draw them and look at books to identify them and learn more.
Making things of mud or sticks. Learning how to make a structure stable.
Try colour mixing using gelatin paper and a table lamp or water colour paints.
Make an easily accessible science kit for your child: This can have a magnifying glass, forceps, empty containers, prism, magnets, torch, prism, tape, scissors, a marker, goggles, gloves, file, some tracing paper, paper and pencils. You can put it in its own tool box and keep building it up.
Play and learn: Let children play with tools and material like magnets, mirrors, X-ray sheets and anything in their kit. Help them use the instruments carefully and follow safety precautions.
Follow a system: Do an activity with your child like using magnets. Discuss what happened. Some things were attracted and some were not. List what is observed. Redo by letting your child take charge. Record or draw or read about what they observed.
Encourage a scientific approach
Start by finding out what they want to know. What do you want to know about plants?
Ask them what do you think the outcome will be? (It’s called making a hypothesis in science). This will keep them on their toes as they want to know if what they predicted is right or wrong.
Encourage them to use their senses, to touch and smell and listen and observe.
Don’t answer all their queries. Encourage them by asking them: “What do you think?”
Develop scientific skills: Get them to sort, observe, classify and create new things. They can start a collection of seeds and then get them to sort it. Let them use their own methods by colour or size or shape.
Make it exciting: Have a lab coat they can wear and a pair of glasses, and get in the role. You can use an old shirt for this.
Become an explorer with your child: Become a Richard Attenborough and marvel at everything and infuse that sense of wonder and joy. Watch a spider spin its web or a bird build a nest. Learn to identify the bird by the nest or call. Collect butterfly pupae and watch them emerge. You be the guide and let your child decide in which direction to go, allow experiments and approach failed experiments as a chance to learn more together.
When my kids were young we got them books and encyclopaedias. Now I suppose you have fantastic resources online. I checked some of these and found them fascinating, www.science.howstuffworks.com, www.exploratorium.edu, https://www.nasa.gov/kidsclub, www.billnye.com and www.scitoys.com
However, there is nothing that can beat a book. You can pour over it at leisure, copy drawings, make notes and enjoy the whole experience over and over.
This will lead to many hours of engrossed observation, some damages as in stained floors, walls and sheets but it will give rise to children who develop a love for science and are not afraid to explore their surroundings.
(Writer is a volunteer in local schools and a trustee with Sethu)