8 Ways to Tell If You Have a Science Kid – And 8 Things to Do with one! by Peter T. Miller The Old School House Magazine 2015 Annual Print
I was, and sill am, a “Science Kid”. I still am inquisitive and want to explore how things work. Over the past four years I have talked to many science kids and their parents at various homeschool conventions and co-op classes. I have observed a number of traits which most science kids seem to display.
1. We do not like drinking from Dixie®cups. We want the fire hydrant. Give us everything all at once. If we get too much, we will sort it out later.
2. We do not like “Cliff-hangers.” Please don’t tell us we have to stop now and will have to wait until next week to continue. We’re really into this Right Now!
3. We cannot stand being told “Learn this now, you will see why later.” Give us a good reason or purpose now, and we’ll be all in. There is just too much we want to know and discover now, rather than waste our time on speculative endeavors.
4. We like to take things apart to see how they work, often putting them back together again. Sometimes they work even better than before. Sometimes we get quite a reputation for this. My family tells a story about a time my dad and I arrived at my aunt’s house. As she looked out the window and saw us coming up the driveway, she excitedly remarked, “Jimmy, quick! Hide the new toaster \. Tom and Peter will want to take it apart!”
5. We live in our own little world. We get so involved in our discoveries or creations that we are (for all practical purposes) in our own little world, and are oblivious to what is going on around us, or in the rest of the household. Eating and sleeping become “necessary nuisances.”
6. We make intuitive jumps when solving problems. This can work well for simple math problems, where quickly getting the right answer is important. But this does not serve well with complex problems where it is essential to keep track of the steps taken to get to the solution. Even so, we often do well in math.
7. Visuals matter. Science kits and educational packages with cover graphics that look like a Saturday morning cartoon, do not grab our attention. We might view them as most likely “lame”. But, a graphic of complex things like high voltage switching stations, atom-smashers, or circuit boards, intrigues us and capture our attention.
8. We tend to follow “rabbit trails”. Everything in the world is interesting. How does it work? Why does it do that? Here, again, we often seem like we are in another world. This type of distraction is both a blessing and curse. We notice little anomalies that can lead to great discoveries, but forget to put on socks, or we lock our keys in the car – the classic absent-minded professor. We start a research paper on one subject and get caught up in researching other interesting trails we find along the way. As an example, while searching for an example of the atomic spectrum of the noble gas ‘neon; used in neon signs, I wound up spending some time researching the atomic spectrum of other elements. (Did you know that iodine has a spectrum consisting of many very fine bands grouped into three clusters -- red, blue, and green? This explains why it gives off a white light. Hmmm . . . this might lead to the creation of a new type of lamp! Oops . . . I did it again.)
Because of this tendency we may seem like we are not paying attention or focusing on the work at hand. On the contrary, we are paying too much attention. Eventually, this does become useful. (Because I had spent so much time exploring trivial bits about chemistry, I scored 798 out of 800 when I took the chemistry achievement test at my dad’s suggestion.)
These things are not, by any means a complete, scientific study; they are just my observations. If you find your child exhibits these characteristics, and you think you have a science kid, keep reading.
8 Things to Do With a Science Kid:
So what do you do with a science kid? How should you treat them? What do they need? From my personal experience and observations, I have come up with the following suggestions. Although every child will be different, there are enough similarities to provide some guidelines.
1. Science kids need a place to work and a helpful advisor. You could set them up with their own workbench with tools and storage shelves in the garage or basement. For “softer sciences” like electronics, programming, or botany, it might even be in their room. One parent I met set up a “technology room” for his two boys (and himself). Be watchful, however. Sometimes our project space expands to fill all available space and we need to be reined in. It will probably be like this for the rest of our lives.
Of course we want our children to be safe, but if we regularly discourage their experiments, they may go off do them on their own. Instead, be in a place of “helpful adviser” so they can still do their planned experiments, but with some input on the dangers and how to do an experiment safely.
There are a lot of interesting science demonstrations on the internet. Direct them to find the better ones that explain all the dangers and needed safety procedures. Real scientists wear safety glasses! Help them make a habit of finding all the information before starting an experiment. We do like to do “dangerous things”, not to get hurt, but because they are out of the ordinary and spectacular. When a dangerous experiment is accomplished successfully, without incident, it’s a badge of honor-- like kicking the dragon’s tail and living to tell about it.
2. Science kids tend to be collectors of all sorts of things. They collect – old electronics and machine bits, bird feathers, books, magazines -- anything that might advance their agenda of understanding and manipulating the universe. Not just the world, but the universe. They need freedom to collect stuff, and of course, places for storing those things.
3. Provide lots of science resources. While learning new things, science kids can mentally bookmark an unknown word or a new concept and continue to follow the explanation. Usually those bookmarked items become clear as more pieces of information are gathered. Providing lots of science books, DVDs, projects, and reference manuals helps facilitate this kind of learning.
4. Science kids need new and advanced challenges. They want high-level science materials that explain the “hows and whys” of science, so they can take these ideas and create their own discoveries. Don’t be afraid to teach them things that seem beyond their capabilities. They just might surprise you. I have met several who learned how to solder when they were 4 or 5. (I learned about then) with a parent’s help. Most six year olds build sand castles; science kids solder tin cans together to build model space ships.
5. Teach science kids to be helpful, and don’t talk down to them. Science kids can be a bit arrogant about their understanding of technology. Because we do know so much, we tend to talk over most people’s heads without even realizing it; we’re just sharing. And, because they do not think a young person could know so much, it might lead them to talk down to us without realizing it (and we can find it slightly insulting.) Typically, we grow out of this. It often helps if we are reminded of the concept of ‘Noblesse oblige’: “Those who are ennobled are obliged to serve”. Instead of feeling slighted, we recognize our privilege and are inspired to become helpful.
6. Science kids often need help with timing. Science kids often have bad timing as to when to present their discoveries. We are so passionate and enthusiastic about what we have discovered, or pulled out of thin air, that we have an immediate need to share it and show it off. Help science kids discern the best time to give their presentation.
7. Science kids need to have their creations and discoveries acknowledged. Even if their parents do not understand what they have created, science kids need proper acknowledgement. The response to “Look what I built!” should not be “Oh, that’s nice”. This leaves us feeling as if we haven’t accomplished very much. You could acknowledge that it is beyond your understanding, ask what it is, and encourage them to keep going. Even if the timing is bad, take a few moments to acknowledge their discovery and then ask to postpone the details until a later time.
8. Science kids learn all other subjects best when presented in relation to the sciences they love. If history is taught from a timeline of scientific discoveries and related to the other events caused by, or contemporary to, those discoveries, we will learn because we want to understand the whole picture and all of its details.
As I mentioned earlier, these are not hard facts, but my personal experiences and observations from talking with science kids and their parents. Every child is unique, so use this as a guideline to study, seek, and pray for insight on how to encourage your child to find the purposes for which God created him or her. Most likely, the thing they are most interested in right now is a major clue as to what they were created to do.
In Proverbs 25:2 it says: “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing; but the honour of kings is to search out a matter.” The glory of royalty (young princes and princesses) is to reveal or investigate what God has hidden. If you have a science kid, he or she just might be one of these “princes or princesses” who will make some great discovery that honors The Lord!
Peter T. Miller is an experimental physicist/inventor, CEO of Applied Inspirations, LLC, a homeschool dad, and still a “science kid.” Having realized that the abundant technical resources his dad provided for him were not the norm for most science kids, he took the idea of “fun stuff first” to create electronics (curriculums) . . . to give back the joy of discovery he had received from his dad. Visit www.AppliedInspirations.com to see these (curriculums).