Written by Simple Homeschool contributor Stefani Austin of Blue Yonder
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Men love to wonder, and that is the seed of science.” I would argue that the seed of science got its start not in men, but rather in curious little boys and girls.
Children are the purest, truest form of scientist. They are fascinated by rocks. They thrill to taking apart and recreating all over again. They are not afraid to get messy, to ask a question, or to postulate a wild and unexpected theory.
Science–that place where curiosity, diligence and imagination meet–is the natural home of a child’s mind.
Imparting the great ideas and discoveries of science to our students can, however, seem such a daunting task. In fact one of the questions that most worries new homeschoolers is something akin to, “How will we recreate a high school chemistry lab at home?”
Take heart, and take a good look at the humble beginnings of many great discoveries. For Newton it began with an ordinary apple. Archimedes made one of his greatest discoveries in the bathtub. Benjamin Franklin changed the world with a kite.
Our children need little more than a few modest tools and bit of training in the ways of observation and record keeping to gain a powerful understanding of science.
Here are a few simple tools for meaningful scientific discovery:
1. A Microscope
I know what you’re thinking. I just said you only needed a few modest tools and now I’m telling you to run out and buy a very expensive piece of equipment! Not so.
In the late 1600s Antony van Leeuwenhoek, a man with no training, fortune or education, began building his own simple microscopes. He tirelessly observed whatever he could find and took careful, exhaustive notes. As a result, he was the first to discover microscopic life and became one of the most important biologists of all time.
Just a little magnification went a very long way for van Leeuwenhoek, and it will for your children as well.
Using an inexpensive microscope, help your child develop a consistent habit of looking more closely at even ordinary things. Have him practice describing what he sees and drawing illustrations. That ability to observe and record is an invaluable skill.
We use the very reasonably priced My First Lab Duoscope and love it. We’ve also found the Usborne Complete Book of the Microscope and The World in a Drop of Water to be inspiring and informative resources for microscope study.
2. Junk, Goggles and a Magic Hammer
In a little corner of our school room you’ll find the always busy “Take Apart Table.” When something breaks in our home it goes to the table. If one of our boys has a few dollars in his pocket they might go to Goodwill in exchange for an old sewing machine or radio. Slowly, painstakingly, these things will be reduced to a pile of circuit boards, screws and cogs.
Along the way we learn a lot about how things work and simple mechanics.
For deconstruction, we highly recommend these great hammers. They are just the right size for small hands and come complete with a set of nesting screw drivers in the handle. When at the Take Apart Table, remember these important rules:
*NO TVs – this can be very dangerous.
*NO banging – banging leads to flying parts, and that’s not safe science!
*Wear goggles – from time to time, things will fly, even without the banging.
*Cut the cords – before beginning any take apart project cut off the electrical cords so all danger of electrical accidents is avoided.
3. Pulleys, Rope and a Glue Gun
Now that you’ve taken apart, you’ve got lots of great parts for making something new! Keep your parts in a big box. Add in a low heat glue gun, some strong but thin rope, and a few pulleys in various sizes. You’ve got all you need for a whole lot of physics and engineering experimentation.
4. Snap Circuits
All that take it apart and put it together machinery inevitably leads to some discussions about electricity. Snap Circuits are a fantastic way to allow kids to safely experiment with the principles of electricity.
5. Camera, Notebook and Colored Pencils
Again, observation and note-taking are essential skills for good science. Practice them often.
Take pictures of your experiments. Write down measurements. Draw the inside of a calculator. Make a map of of the flora and fauna in your yard. Keep records of the changes in the moon.
The more you record, the more you learn.
For all our advances in science and technology, some of the greatest inspiration still comes from the printed word.
Gain insight from the lives of famous scientists with the Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Inventors and Scientists series. They are simply written and appealing to kids, but rich in information.
No one can compare to Janice VanCleave for science experiment books. We have many and are always hungry for more.
Golden Guides – hands down the best field guides for children (and great for adults too!)
Stars – The creator of Curious George developed this intuitive, beginner-friendly way of looking at the heavens.
With just these few items, and a big helping of childish wonder, you’re well on your way to science greatness!
“Every great advance in science has issued from a new audacity of imagination.”
What are your favorite tools for science?