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Science Tips for Kids — An Interview with Janice VanCleave

Q. What makes science fun for kids?
A. Kids find science fun when they are actively involved. My hands-on investigations and their natural curiosity catapult kids into a world of discovery, for some of the following reasons:
  • Hands-on activities, such as investigations involve student action.
  • Kids want to be active problem solvers.
  • Magical-like investigations make kids go "WOW!"
  • Easy to understand investigations with bite-size pieces of information.
  • Information related to their age level.
  • Real World investigations
  • Exploration....the “ah- has!”
  • Anything kids can make happen themselves.
  • Investigations that really work.
  • Investigations involving "around the house" materials so they can redo the experiments at home--many times.

Q. When should children start learning about science?
A. Science is a process learned in daily life experience from an infant discovering his/her hand and fingers to a child conducting more involved investigations in the classroom, and even throughout adult life. Kids need to start studying science long before they go to school. Parents are the best teachers -- they can point out things, explain, and inspire before a child has "formal" science training.

Even children as young as 3 and 4 can begin doing science activities that help them understand the world around them. My Play and Find Out series allows kids to play as they learn about the scientific world around them. The books in this series each have an appendix that includes more information about each science topic. This allows the adult working with the child to better understand the topic and answer inquiring questions.

Q. In general, how has the teaching of science to elementary children changed over the years?
A. Only a short time ago, science teachers instructed in lecture format. That is, teachers told kids why something happened and kids basically read science books and answered questions.

Today, science is taught via more hands-on investigations. Advances in technology have brought the world into the classroom. For example, via computers students can program a telescope miles away to take pictures of a star during the night while they sleep. The next day the information can be downloaded and the star analyzed. Note: My local astronomy club in Waco, Texas is in the process of building such an observatory system. Of course this system is not available for everyone, but computer programs for math and science make learning more of a game than a chore.