Thursday, March 31, 2011

Can and should a 3 year old girl be into science?

This blog is about my 3 years old daughter, who has taken a bit of an interest in science. She is a big Why Kid. A day shortly after she turned 3, I was watching her alone. We looked around on the Internet. One thing we found was a one minute low quality computer simulation of water freezing on YouTube. To my surprise she liked it.

I went out and bought her a couple of picture science books and small science project kits. She liked that too.

A week ago she proclaimed:
I am into science and music.

This only started 3 weeks ago, and who knows if it will last.

Drawing on blackboard

Night time stories from Pippi Longstocking to science

My daughter's big problem is that she is a very bad sleeper, every night I have to stay in her bed and read her stories till she falls to sleep. Her favorite stories are about Pippi Longstocking, a little orphan girl who refuses to go to school, eats candy all day long and beats up policemen and school teachers for fun.  I loved those Pippi stories when I was a kid. When I read them now I wonder if Pippi really is such a great role model for kids. Recently I have started to mix Pippi stories with talks about science.

Bedtime Science Story Topics

The topics for the bedtime stories are very simple chemistry, physics and biology explained without much detail.
  • Simple molecules, like water
  • Temperature and molecule motion
  • Cells
  • Bacteria
  • Virus
  • Planets
  • The sun
  • The stars
  • Magnets
  • Electricity
  • Energy as something that can make other things happen

Science projects

The science kits are basically just a pile of plastic junk. Still, they make it easy to get started. These are the experiments we have made so far:
  • Made boats out of clay that is heavier than water
  • Get a metal paper clip floating on water to illustrate surface tension
  • Spinning top with rainbow colors turns them into white
  • Planted seeds and watered them
  • Look at plants and other things through a magnifying glass
  • Took the temperature of hot and cold water
  • Got a little ball suspended in the air over an air stream
She likes the the projects. She often asks if we can do a science project.

Should a 3 year old girl be interested in science?

I will split this question into 3 sub questions.

Can a 3 year old understand science?
I read Piaget's theory about child development and he said that a kid brain only develops logic capabilities when they are 7 to 11 years old.

I do not think that logic reasoning is a requirement for understanding basic science.

Does learning science early help them later?
This is debatable. I am very curious by nature. Before 10 I was interested in science, but it was hard to do any of it by myself. I had a friend who was older and had a chemistry laboratory in his tiny basement room; it was the coolest thing to be there. I got a little chemistry set myself, but did not really know what to do with it. It did install the notion that science was cool, and I ended up studying science later.

Is it bad to take playtime away from kids?
At 3 years old, science is just another game. 

You have no idea what little kids are interested in and what they are good at. Exposing your kids to a lot of different things is valuable. 

Reaction to Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

A small incidence sent me into a rage. I discovered a new book called Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua, who is a law professor at Yale. She is using extreme methods to push her 2 daughters to academic excellence. They had to be the best in their class in everything except drama and physical education. Math was a topic that she really drilled them in. Just reading the back cover sent me into a rage; so much that I decided to start this new blog: Bedtime Science Stories, just to get my anger out.

There are hundreds of critical reviews of the book already, so let me just give one thought: If you raise your kids on the principles in Tiger Mother you risk turning them into obnoxious know it alls or possibly insufferable or damaged kids.

Science for everybody

Amy Chua and I both want to raise daughters that excel in science and math; but we see science very differently.

To me, science is about exploring the world. 
It is about being curious.
It is about questioning things, including your own findings.

Science should not be an elite activity. Making it very competitive will make a new generation of kids hate math and science. Understanding our world is worthwhile activity even if you are not the best in your class. 

Preliminary results

Take the time machine half a year into the future to see preliminary result in my fourth blog post: First Semester of Science School for 3 Year Olds


  1. I can hear it from the other end of the apt "dad, can we talk about water again?"

  2. I love this! I can't wait to read more. I'm raising a (five year old) 'why' girl myself. I'm also deep into integrating percussive dance with elementary math topics and finding that both math and science are more about questions than procedures. A math educator friend of mine recently stated that experience and observation needs to preceed formal learning in math (and, I'm sure, in science as well) and if you skip this part you'll just have to go back to it before you can move forward.

  3. I have been looking for something more instructional to read to my 7 year old. She has been really interested in science since 6. The other day she asked if people could live in a black hole? This was in the middle of dinner and nothing that me or my wife did recently would cause her to even think about outer space. So that night I found an article that talked about black holes and the risks.
    She went to sleep wondering how much life does the sun have left.

    Anyways, I was looking for more science articles that could be easy to explain to kids. Since after 5 years of reading Dr. Seuss and little einsteins had gotten old for both.