Raising a Young Scientist

Do you have a child who stares at snails? A girl who twitters like a bird? A boy who knows every snake species on the continent? Don’t fret. You may have a young naturalist or young scientist in your house. Really, their care and keeping is not so bad. It’s just a little messy. Prepare for strange things in aquariums.

How do you nourish these young beasts (the kids, I mean)?

Unstructured outdoor time.  The brain needs time to look, discover, and wonder.  Soccer is great but sometimes you need to just sit in a field and notice the bees. Hold back on the need to entertain. Getting a little bored helps the brain to wander and find.

Encourage questions. Don’t dismiss them, and don’t worry if you don’t have the answer. But don’t leave questions hanging either. Have your young scientist write them down and explore them later. Forming good questions is important. Give your young scientists a little notebook to write in!

Books, books, books! Buy all of my books, of course, to start exploration. (Ha, ha, ha) But, seriously, this is crucial, start buying field guides.  Build your child’s library…but not too quickly. One big, juicy field guide at a time, preferable just before or in the season where it might be most useful. Insects for summer. Birds for spring or fall migration.  I’ve got a list in my store under “nature field guides.” 

Give them time to appreciate each book and become obsessed by it, love it, cover to cover. Then only later introduce the next.  Take a trip where all you bring is a field guide and actually read it! A great field guide goes way, way, beyond the internet in scope.  Building their field guide library will give them a reference for life.

Web Wander. In addition, as a family, why not tune in to some of the great internet resources? One of my favorites is the astronomy picture of the day. It’s one mind-opening photo and a paragraph. Just enough to give your family a daily dose of outer space. It’s expanding my mind and educating me. Also check for the Earth Science Picture of the day, and National Geographic’s Picture of the Day. Oh, and there’s a terrific Hubble site, as well.

Humane Animal Care. Do you find yourself with lots of pets and odd animals?  I’ve listed my best advice about this in the children’s section under “Pets and the Planet.” You might also want to take a look at this recent article before choosing animals for your kids: AOL: Exotic Pets Pose Health Risk to Kids This mostly applies to young children. Older children with these pets must be taught to wash their hands rigorously and be careful where they put these pets. An essential book for your home is Pets in a Jar by Seymour Simon. It’s an older but good guide. Most of all, explore as a family. If you teach your child common sense rules about handling animals, you will likely be fine. But teaching these rules is not just a matter of telling them once. Post rules for animal handling or set up a ritual and practice it with them each time. These small schedules and plans for washing hands, handling the animal, cleaning cages, and so on, are an important part of not only learning but also humane animal care.

If, like us, you/your family have members that are allergic to many animals, then plant habitat to attract birds, butterflies, and other creatures to your yard/school yard. You’ll have plenty of animal interactions, plus you will be helping make the world a more welcoming place for wildlife.

Most of all, as a member of the big ol’ world out there, I want to the thank you for your hard work as a parent. You are contributing to a better future for all of us by raising an inquisitive, open minded young person with an interest in science.

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