Sharing Science with Children:
A Guide for Parents

Children ask a lot of questions. Ever curious, they use all of their senses to explore the world and discover new things.

Children and science are natural partners. Science is all about searching for answers. It is observing, investigating, testing ideas - things that children love to do.

Today's children are tomorrow's scientists and science users. They will rely even more than we do on science and technology - for jobs, communication, food, health care, energy, and care of the environment.

Science learning begins at home, with you as your child's most important teacher. By sharing science with your children, you can help them:

This guide suggests ways you can help your children learn about science at home and in your community.


Science is a part of life - every day.

Science is a way of looking at the world.
Scientists ask questions and try to answer them. They experiment to see if their ideas make sense. So do children. "How do zippers work?" "Where does the rain go?" "What will happen if...?" When your children ask questions and try to find answers, they are beginning to do science!

Science skills are used in everyday life.
When you observe, compare, sort, experiment, record or share information, you are practicing science skills. A child arranging leaves by shape is using the same thinking process a scientist uses to sequence genes of a human cell.

Science is information about things and how they work.
Although science is more than just facts, science knowledge helps us build on our discoveries and understand things that happen each day.
"What a good way to begin science. Take apart a toy; see how it works. See the cleverness of the gears... Learn something about the toy, the way the toy is put together, the ingenuity of the people devising it." -Richard Feynman, Nobel laureate in Physics

"The natural world is every child's first laboratory, where questions like "Why?" and "How?" are early initiations into the excitement and challenge of science and technology. Encourage your children to read, too. Not just what they have to read for class or work, but to learn from the wisdom and joys and mistakes of others. No time is wasted if you have a good book along as a companion.

All of today's parents and community leaders must try to inspire the young of the world, through books and great people, so that all children are provided with a sense of life that transcends the artificial boundaries of race, gender, class, and things." -Marian Wright Edelman
Founder and President of the Children's Defense Fund, a national voice for children


Let your child take the lead.
Build on your child's interests. If your child loves to cook, let him measure and mix ingredients, pour the batter into a mold, see mixtures change as they're heated. Children love to "know all about" their favorite topics. This confidence carries over to other areas of science, and to life as well.
Take time to do science.
Science is exploring, observing, handling materials, testing ideas, and talking about what our explorations tell us. Give your children a chance to repeat experiences, to practice skills, to deepen their understanding.
Talk with your children.
Encourage your children to talk about their experiences. Listen to them, talk about what they observe, think, and feel. Ask questions, especially those with more than one answer.
It's okay to say "I don't know."
Science is all about searching for answers. Observe and experiment together to find answers to your children's questions. Go to the library, use other resources. Start by looking for information together, and soon your children will try it on their own.
Enthusiasm is catching.
Let your children see that you have questions about the world, too. Enjoy your child's curiosity and discoveries. Show your children that you think learning is important and fun.
Be ready for science moments.
Sometimes science opportunities happen when you least expect them. Your child may notice a spider spinning its web on the way to the store, or soil getting washed away on a rainy day, or a full moon shining. It's worth getting a little wet or dirty, or losing a little sleep sometimes.
Remember safety.
Teach good safety habits. Use materials that are non-toxic and right for your child's age. Supervise children when using heat or chemicals - even simple ones like vinegar and baking soda. Take away hazards - cleaning aids, poisons, sharp objects, things that can break. Teach kids how to prevent accidents and what to do if one occurs.
"If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in." -Rachel Carson, Biologist


Eight-year-old Brian offers to help his mother make pancakes. Brian measures each ingredient and his mom mixes them in a bowl.

As they spoon the batter onto a hot skillet, Brian remarks "This is so wet, Mom. What makes it turn into a pancake?"

"Hmm, I'm not sure," his mother answers, "I've never thought about it before. Let's watch closely as it cooks and try to find out."

Science starts at home...

As these parents help their children learn to wash, cook, and use tools, they are also helping them develop important science skills...

Twelve-year-old Randy asks his dad to help him build a model windmill for a school science project. Randy shows his father the drawing he's made and together they measure the lengths of wood. Randy saws the wood, with a little help from his dad. When he's finished, Randy touches the saw blade.

"Hey, Dad, I wonder why this metal is warm...and the wood, too." Randy hands the saw to his father.

"It sure is," his dad agrees. He pauses a moment. "Rub your hands together real fast, son, - how does that feel?"

Randy tries it. "My hands feel warm, too."

"How is that like sawing the wood?" his dad asks.

Science at home supports science at school!

Science concepts explored in school classrooms are the same ones you can explore in daily life. Here are some everyday examples - you and your children can find many more!

How some metals rust when they get wet
What happens to an egg when it boils
Why children outgrow their clothes
How days turn into nights
How utensils are arranged in a drawer
Cycles found in nature
The way food is organized in the supermarket
A tower built out of blocks
A map of a town or museum
The directions to assemble toys or household equipment
How a toy train compares in size with a real train
What thermometers, rulers, and bathroom scales measure
Different sizes of liquid containers
Kinds of books at home or in the library
Different plants you see in the park
The variety of people and cultures in your community
Cause and Effect
The way shadows are created and change
How a damp towel mildews if left crumpled on the floor
How eyeglasses fog when a person comes inside from the cold
Structure and Function
How the shape of our teeth helps us eat
Why chairs are shaped the way they are
How the design of a fish's tail helps it swim
Five-year-old Maria sees her mother washing dishes and asks if she can help. Her mom pulls a stool up to the sink. Maria stirs the warm soapy water and scoops up a handful of bubbles.

"Look Mom!" Maria blows the bubbles off her hand and watches them float in the air, then pop where they land. She tries it again and again, seeing how much she can scoop up and how long it takes for the bubbles to pop.

"I can see you've got a project going," her mother says with a smile. "Why don't I get you a dishpan of your own?"

Mother finishes the dishes as Maria experiments with the bubbles next to her.

Young People and Learning

Being aware of how your children grow and change helps you share in the learning process. The chart below offers clues to the way children change, though there are wide differences within each age group. Each child is unique and makes sense of the world at his or her own pace.

Children ages 3-5

Children ages 6-8

Children ages 9-12

Science in Everyday Life

Doing science doesn't require a lot of money or special equipment. Here are some everyday experiences that can become science experiences.

watch a spider spin its web, take your pet to the vet, ask to see x-rays at the doctor's, follow a caterpillar as its changes into a butterfly, watch a mosquito bite, look for animal tracks in the mud or snow, ask about the tools a dentist uses, act out how different animals move, watch a cut heal
watch the sky, look at weather maps in newspapers, read thermometers, choose appropriate clothing, fly a kite in the wind, dry clothes on a clothesline, splash around in puddles, look for signs of seasonal changes, ask family and friends about the climates where they live, watch TV weather reports, ask older relatives about the worst weather they remember, keep a weather diary for one month
Energy and Conservation
replace flashlight batteries, find your electric meter and measure how much electricity your family uses, recycle household materials, experiment with kitchen magnets, rub a balloon on your hair to make static electricity, identify and use kitchen tools, save water, ride a bike instead of taking a car ride, see how far a marble will roll
Earth & Space
compare different street surfaces, observe changes in the moon's shape in the sky, notice the variety of building materials, read about NASA's space program in the library or newspaper, read maps of all kinds, grow and examine salt and sugar crystals, make models of airplanes and boats, collect rocks and group the ones that are similar, see how shadows change during the day, enjoy a sunset
plant seeds in a window box, sort vegetables and fruits, compare clothing fabrics, grow mold on bread, identify trees, care for house plants, create a compost pile, collect all kinds of seeds, sprout lima beans and other "kitchen" seeds, examine parts of a flower, adopt a tree and record seasonal changes, take a walk in a park
Physical & Chemical Properties
measure and mix ingredients while cooking, sink and float toys in the tub, oil the hinges on a squeaky door, make and play musical instruments, dissolve sugar in hot and cold tea, blow soap bubbles, sort objects (leaves, shells, rocks), organize the kitchen cupboards, turn water into ice and steam, find and compare plastics in your home, create heat in three ways, bounce light with mirrors

Some Next Steps

Get involved in your child's day care or school.

Ask about the science program:
Do the children do "hands-on" science projects? how often? What can you do at home to support their science program?
Find out what you can do to help:
Do they need chaperones for science field trips? Funds raised for science equipment? Help collecting or preparing materials?

Check with community organizations.

Ask about science-related programs in your area. Groups to contact include: PTAs, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Camp Fire, Inc., YWCAs, YMCAs, Boys and Girls Clubs, 4-H, nature or science center groups, religious youth groups. If local branches don't yet offer science programming, why not suggest they start?

Explore science in your area...from A to Z!

Airports, Aquariums, Beekeepers, Botanical gardens, Buildings under construction, Chemical plants, Dairies, Farms, Flower shows, Forests, Gardens, Gravel pits, Greenhouses, Hardware stores, Health clinics, Industrial plants, Mines, Museums, Nature centers, Newspaper plants, Observatories, Parks, Planetariums, Playgrounds, Quarries, Recycling centers, Science centers, Sewage treatment plants, Shorelines, Television stations, Utility companies, Water purification plants, Weather stations, Wildlife sanctuaries, Zoos

Share this guide with other parents.

Take advantage of resources.

Science centers and museums feature hands-on exhibits, offer science programs and activities for all ages, and serve as an educational resource for their communities. Contact the Association of Science-Technology Centers (202) 783-7200 for a center near you.

National Science & Technology Week (NSTW), a year-round program of the National Science Foundation, presents activities, events and hands-on innovative teaching materials to engage the public in active science and engineering experiences. For free activity packets, write: NSTW, NSF, Room 527, 1800 G Street, NW, Washington, DC 20550.

The American Chemical Society (ACS) actively works to educate the public about chemists and chemistry, and to encourage scientists for tomorrow through science education, publications, volunteers and community networking. Contact ACS's Public Outreach Office, 1155 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036, (800) ACS-5558.

National Head Start Association (NHSA) supports parents and education staff in Head Start programs across the country. Early childhood play-to-learn experiences stimulate children's natural curiosity and science interest. NHSA, 201 N. Union Street, Suite 320, Alexandria, VA 22314.

National Council of La Raza (NCLR), a national Hispanic organization, produces Project EXCEL to support families and communities learning together. For Parent Outreach information, contact NCLR, Los Angeles Program Office, 900 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1520, Los Angeles, CA 90017.

Sharing Science with Children: A Guide for Parents

Developed by the North Carolina Museum of Life and Science
Thomas H. Krakauer, Ph.D., Executive Director
Georgiana M. Searles, Director of Education
Laura Nault Massell, Project Director
Non-commercial duplication is encouraged.

For more copies of this guide or others in the Sharing Science series, A Guide for Scientists and Engineers, or A Guide for Teachers write: Georgiana M. Searles, North Carolina Museum of Life and Science, P.O. Box 15190, Durham, North Carolina 27704.

The North Carolina Museum of Life and Science gratefully acknowledges funding support from:

National Science Foundation
American Chemical Society
American Society for Microbiology
Schering-Plough Research
American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, Soil Science
Society of America
National Science & Technology Week and its corporate sponsors:
AT&T, Miles Inc., Ford Motor Company, IBM

North Carolina Museum of Life and Science