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Summer Science: Promoting Learning at Home
By Janet Vohs, Director of Publications
Massachusetts Parent Information & Resource Center (PIRC)

“Science is all about questioning assumptions, testing theories, and analyzing facts. These basic skills prepare kids not just for the lab— but also for life. We’re doing kids a disservice if we don’t teach them how to ask tough and challenging questions.”

~ Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, National Science Teachers Association Conference, March 20, 2009

Why is the sky blue? Where do mountains come from? Why? Parents are used to tough questions. Our children’s curiosity is a valuable asset that will motivate them for a lifetime of learning. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist in order to support your children’s interests, answer their questions and help them foster a love of science. Here are some tips to help you help your child learn science:

1) Your attitude sets the stage for learning and helps your children be enthusiastic. Encourage their questions, help them find the answers, and further explore their interests. Avoid negative statements such as, “I never liked science.”

2) Science is really about solving everyday problems; therefore, science is for everyone. Many of us grew up believing that only some people were good at science. Today, thanks to research, we know that kids’ beliefs about their abilities make a big difference in how they succeed. Effort and hard work are what matter most. When you see your child wrestling with a problem, praise that effort.

3) Help children explore the science around them. Summer time is a great time to ‘think science.’ Play games and choose activities that help them become familiar with scientific concepts and thinking. In addition to the ideas below, The U.S. Department of Education has a list of activities to do at home and in the community at www.ed.gov/parents/academic/help/science/index.html (English and Spanish).

4) Help children observe objects carefully. Noticing details can help children learn to classify or group things based on their characteristics. You can help your child develop observation skills by asking questions about an object’s size, shape, color, how it moves, and how it might change over time. Encourage your child to record these observations.

5) Encourage children to ask questions, and listen to their ideas and explanations. Curiosity is the essential trait of a scientist. Learning to ask questions, propose answers, and test them out are keys to learning in all academic disciplines.

6) If possible, have your children explore different environments. Beaches, swamps, parks, as well as kitchens, bathrooms, and backyards are good places to discuss science. Look for situations that encourage playful exploration.

7) Toys can also spark discovery and learning. It’s not the number of toys that is important, but the kind of toys. The more things a child can do with a toy, the more likely it is to be educational.

8) Seize the teachable moments. If your child sees a beautiful flower and asks about it, take the opportunity to discuss flowers and bulbs. You can follow up by planting bulbs or flower seeds in the garden or in the house and watching them grow.

9) The best way to develop an understanding of how science works is through hands-on science experiences. Not only are hands-on experiences a great way to learn, but they are also a great way to get children excited about science. Science begins for children when they discover that they can learn about the world through their own actions, such as blowing soap bubbles, or adding a block that causes a structure to collapse.

10) There are many movies, television specials, magazines, newspapers, books, and computer programs about science-related topics. Talk with your children about the science they see. Was it interesting to them, and why? What did they learn?

Getting Familiar with the Standards
In Massachusetts, the education standards are known as “Curriculum Frameworks.” These describe what all students should know and be able to do at different grades in each academic subject area. Schools districts use these standards as the “framework” for what they teach. Each spring, statewide MCAS tests assess how well students have learned the standards. Read the current curriculum frameworks for all grades and subject areas at www.doe.mass.edu/frameworks/current.html. Parents can use the Frameworks as a guide for activities to do at home.