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The Problem-Solving Parent; Experience: The Only Teacher
By Eleanor Reynolds Children and Families Expert

Do you want to teach your child about science but think you don’t know how? Have no fear – you and your child can learn together.

There is a saying that “experience is not the best teacher, it’s the only teacher.” For a young child, the learning process must relate to his needs, desires, and curiosity. Therefore, your child should be exposed to and stimulated by a rich environment in which his moment-to-moment encounters are meaningful, and this environment should keep expanding to match and surpass your child’s level of understanding and interest. In other words, your child must EXPERIENCE in order to LEARN.           

How do you offer your child enriching experiences that will stimulate the learning process? Many cities now have children’s museums, science centers, and aquariums in which children can participate in hands-on science activities, and your child’s preschool program will promote his participation in science observations and experiments. However, without a visit to a local children’s museum or enrollment in preschool, you can help your child experience the world in your own home or during everyday events such as walks around the neighborhood, the park, or even shopping trips. The key to turning an everyday event into a learning experience is taking the time to demonstrate your own awareness, curiosity, and imagination.           

As you share everyday experiences with your child, point out things at your child’s eye level. This might sound simple or obvious, but adults often forget that the world is brand new to young children: every crack in the sidewalk, hubcap on a car, cat on a porch, falling leaf, bug crossing the path, water running into the gutter, and reflection in a puddle are fascinating. When you take walks in the neighborhood take the opportunity to introduce your child to nature. The blue of the sky, cloud formations, shadows on the ground, drops of rain, flakes of snow, flowers in bloom, and food growing in the garden all provide you and your child with a wealth of shared experiences. While shopping, talk to your child about the colors and shapes of items on the grocery shelves and discuss the ingredients in foods and how you decide what to buy. 

At home, look for simple ways to allow your child to use her senses to touch and manipulate everyday substances. Water play, whether in the sink, in a bucket filled with bubbles and small toys, in the bathtub, or in a wading pool, can hold a child’s attention for long periods of time. Other sensory materials might include multi-colored and shaped beans, plain or colored rice (color rice with food coloring), cornmeal, rock salt, and sand. Add appropriate small “toys” such as empty clear plastic containers, scoops, and funnels to make these materials even more fun. 

Children relish activities that give them problems to solve, such as magnets. A magnetic wand, along with metal screws, washers, bolts, and other small metal hardware items will fascinate any young child. Encourage your child to guess how and why do magnets stick to things and what is magnetic and what is not. In addition, explore with your child how a clock or telephone works. Other activities include helping your child safely dismantle old appliances from a thrift store to see how they operate (cut off the cords first); transforming ingredients into cookies, salads, or stews; finding your pulse; listening to your heart with a working stethoscope; and outlining your child’s body and letting him draw his face, hair, and body parts. 

The possibilities for science learning are endless! Remember, you are your child’s best science teacher – have fun learning, too! 

 

Eleanor Reynolds is the editor of The Best of the Problem-Solver: Articles for Parents and Teachers and the author of Guiding Young Children: A Problem-Solving Approach. She can be reached by email at problem@blarg.com.