Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Playing Science

Today, we played science. It was fantastic fun. We combined and colored cornstarch and water, and talked about viscosity and liquids and solids. But mostly, the kids messed around and got crazy messy and happy. It was an idea that came together after I posted the following to the Always Learning list:

My 6 1/2 year old has been asking to do science experiments lately. We've done some cool ones--making paper helicopters, soup-can "telephones," ice cream in a Ziploc bag, cornstarch-water non-Newtonian fluid, and of course, plenty of fun with baking soda and vinegar.

But I'm not sure I'm getting at what he wants to get at.

I keep the explanations short, focusing on the playing-with rather than talking-about, but he seems a little dissatisfied within a few minutes. He can't really articulate what he's looking for, and I keep getting stumped at the idea that most science experiments begin with a question or wondering about how things work or what-would-happen-if... (which happen as part of our daily life, but don't seem to count for him). I'm trying to bring out "classic" experiments in something of a vacuum, but I almost wonder if he has a mad-scientist
laboratory in his mind as what "science" looks like.

This feels like a place where schooly/subject stuff is getting in the way for me; maybe my homeschooled son and (schooled) I mean two different things by "science experiment," and I don't want to fall into a spot where it seems as if school kids get the better end of the stick with chemistry class, physics class, etc. Or maybe I could just turn my kitchen into a mad scientist lab for a day and we could all wear white coats and funny wigs? :) I should add that my husband and I are wordy-history folks, so I am working hard to extend out of my comfort zone with this one.

Thanks for any thoughts.

mama to Woody (6 1/2) and Fox (3 1/2)


I got the most wonderful feedback, including practical suggestions and different perspectives:

  • do set up the mad scientist lab, at the kitchen table before they wake up
  • get a microscope to look at things whenever the urge arises--hair, blood, dead bugs, etc.
  • look through the chemistry kits on Amazon with the boys to see what looks good (other parents said they'd been disappointed in pre-packaged chemistry sets)
  • make costume blood and scars
  • do a wildlife count or nature photography
  • dig holes outside
  • turn the compost pile and examine it
  • playing with magnets
  • make a play-pretend Harry Potter potions class
  • get some beakers, pipettes, syringes and flasks and play with colored water and other substances
  • sprout seeds
  • play with a hose in the sandbox
  • try to identify spiders and insects around the house and yard
  • leave scraps of colored paper for wasps to use in their nests (if one is nearby)
  • leave bits of string and yarn for birds' nests (mostly in spring)
  • make a blocks maze and see if you can get wind-up toys to go through
  • " Any play is a "science experiment" when there are elements included that have
    some variability. If he really likes the idea of "doing science," you could
    dress it up a bit for him. "Today we are going to be archeologists!" Head
    outdoors with brushes, shovels, flathead screwdrivers and magnifying glasses in
    hand, and dig! " (from Karen)
  • make play dough and put out various things to build with--craft sticks, twigs, straws, pipe cleaners, etc.
  • make paper
  • freeze a pie plate full of water with tiny toys inside it for them to discover
  • making big bubbles with gycerine
  • play with dry ice
  • dissect something dead

-- Let go of the idea that you need an outcome or a conclusion.

-- " He's doing real science all the time, the play science doesn't have to produce anything." (from Sarah)

--" I tell my girls that science is just another word that means questioning our physical world. ANY single time he wonders about our physical world and how things work, that's science.,, 

     Things that you obviously know about but are demonstrating can be science as well if he is thinking about the outcome or if he is thinking about the explanation behind it...
      Allowing him to question what might happen allows him to create a hypothesis, and thus you are using and demonstrating the scientific method. You can get all geeky if you want with him, a lab notebook, writing down steps, coming up with a hypothesis, etc. if that's what he is seeking, esp since it is before Halloween finding a lab coat should be easy! Even when you know the answer it is still an experiment, adding the question of why or how, and testing it turns into the method."  (from Stephanie)

And some links:

http://sandradodd.com/strew/tadaa (a couple of experiments that are easy and fun)

Steve Spangler Science (YouTube channel with experiments)

Slow Mo Guys (YouTube channel with super slow-motion pranks and silliness. The boys and Aila watched almost every single one of these videos. They chaps are charming, and the effect of the super slow motion is very cool. Also, they very effectively model the happy-go-lucky part of science that begins with, "wouldn't it be cool if...!")

Scientific Tuesdays (Internet science show)

Will it Blend (YouTube channel)

BBC TV show, "Bang Goes the Theory"

American Science and Surplus (for lab materials)