Sunday, October 30, 2011

First Semester of Science School for 3 Year Olds

When my daughter turned 3 she saw a short video on YouTube about water molecules. She liked it.

It has always been very hard to get her to bed. So I had the brilliant idea that I could start telling her about science for her bedtime story every night.

The problem with brilliant ideas is that daily life does not always welcome them.

My daughter is a very strong-willed child. When she wants something, she wants it now, and if she is not getting it, be prepared for something very loud. We have tried everything legal: encourage, motivate, begged, reasoned, yelled, threatened, cried. All to little avail. She is basically running the family with an iron fist. She is generally not a bad kid, but she acts up when she is tired or hungry.

I started these science chats as an experiment, not sure what to expect. Now it has been half a year since we started. What have we achieved?

Highlight: The World Science Festival 2011

The highlight of the semester was the World Science Festival 2011, a 2 day science fair for kids.

The first day of the fair was located on Governor's Island. We walked around and played mini golf. Finally we found the science fair booths. I really wanted her to see the NASA tent. This was the coolest thing when I grew up. But by then she was too exhausted, and we had to run her home, before we had a crying incident.

The second day was in Washington Square Park.

Robot Booth

There was a robotic competition for school teams. That was her favorite.

She saw the small Lego robots and immediate took a liking to them, and ran over to play with them.

My wife said: don't get too excited every little boy loves robots and superheroes. I thought true, but she is not a boy and she does not love superheroes.

Veterinarian Booth

We went to a place where they were telling the kids about working as a veterinarian. She was sitting there for a while with a big plush tiger.

After that she fell asleep in her stroller.

We walked around among all the different booths.

Science Quiz for Kids

On the big stage a woman asked science questions to the audience of little science kids.

The science kids were jumping up and down to get to answer them.

My daughter woke up right when they were closing down the festival.

Highlight of the Highlight

I was disappointed about how little we had gotten out of the fair so we went home and started assembling a chair made out of cardboard.  The chair was for her to stand on to reach the kitchen sink.

Cardboard chair assembly kit

She was good, and focused on the project for maybe 30 minutes.

This turned out to be the highlight of the day, and the first half year.

Is this science or preparation for factory work that no longer exists?

Engaging Kids in Science

We did inspire some other parents to talk about science with their kids.

One of her friends who is a 3 year old very energetic boy was saying:

There is an army in the body, ..., called the immune system, ...

I was impressed they had found a way to teach science that he could relate to.

I considered telling my daughter:

Your body is filled with princesses and each princess has a lot of housekeepers that keeps the body clean.

First Semester Science Education Result

To sum things up, during this last half year we have talked a little about:

  • Cells
  • Bacteria
  • Viruses
  • Water molecules
  • The sun, plants and the stars
  • Day and night and the seasons
  • Magnetism
  • Electricity
  • Simple geometric shapes

We have done a few science experiments. They get repetitive after a little while, and generally involved balloons, water and magnets.

We have not read much in her science books. At night, when she is tired, she usually has an attention span of 1 second.  Unfortunately, this is when I have time to read with her. She will jump out of bed at least 10 times. She will literally walk her leg up the side of the bed until she is standing on her head.

Is Teaching Science to a 3 Year Old Absurd?

She has learned less than I had hoped for. When she is fresh she can be very focused on things that interest her, but I get very little of that time.

We have met a few high achieving parents with kids with a strong interest for math at 3 or 4 years old.  They are the kids that score in the 99 percentile on their school application IQ test when they are 4 years old. This allows them to enter the lottery for 300 citywide gifted and talented spots in New York City. For them science education certainly makes sense.

My daughter has shown no sign of being a math kid. She likes a lot of different things: drawing, painting, yoga, dance and music. I still have no idea if she has any aptitude for science or math. I am very happy she shows some interest in science.

My experience with teaching science to a 3 year old had some success. She is excited about science, whatever science is in her 3 year old mind. I have been happy to share my interest with her.

When you share any adult interest with a 3 year old kid you should know that their brain has limited capacity for abstract and logical thoughts. And you should be prepared for disappointment when you find out that your young child does not share your skill set or interest.

My plan moving forward is, lower the ambition level a little but continue telling her a little bit about science when an opportunity presents itself.

Cardboard chair with graffiti in front of kitchen sink