Raising Future Scientists

I heard the founder of Udacity.com being interviewed and he told a story about his childhood that I'll never forget. His father brought home a computer for him with no games or programs on it. The father said that if he wanted games then he would have to learn how to program the computer and create them on his own.

This story has always stuck with me as there are so many valuable parenting lessons within it.
I feel fortunate that we had a computer in my home as a child before the Internet was commonplace and I feel a sense of duty to pay it forward by exposing my children to emerging technologies.

Below are some things that my kids and I have done which will hopefully instill curiosity in them and a lifelong love of the sciences.

1. Hologram Project
We built this cool little hologram that works with any mobile phone. As we all played with it in amazement, I challenged them to think more deeply about it. I asked questions like "How does it work? What could we do with this?" "How can we improve it?" The looks on their faces as they reached for it only to realize that it wasn't there was priceless!

2. Gardening
Getting dirty and using tools are really fun for kids. But most importantly, I want to make the connection in their heads that our food DOES NOT come from a grocery store! It is grown in the ground by farmers. In a world where many children can't even recognize a vegetable, there is something powerful about this early lesson.We also compost and have set up a rain barrel to water the garden.

3. Nature Walks
It is well known in the research literature that children's time spent outdoors has multiple long term benefits. Fresh air, learning about plants and animals, creating new neural pathways. Nature gives us a canvas with potential lessons at every step.

4. International Space Station
NASA lists the time and place to look skyward when the ISS is viewable orbiting the earth. My kids and I have seen it a few times. This has opened the door to further curiosity about space which led us to watching videos like this that can help them to understand what an astronaut does. In all likelihood, they will have the opportunity to visit space at some point in their life.

5. Virtual Reality Headset
Google has devised a way to build a VR headset with some cardboard and other spare parts. It is still a novelty but the other major tech players like Apple, Facebook, and Samsung are betting big that this technology will be the future. We had so much fun with it as we simulated a skydive while I threw them up in the air. We came face to face with a great white shark and even used Google Street View to stand outside our own home. 

6. Experiments
Milk, food coloring, and soap. Vinegar and baking soda, dry ice and water. There are an enormous amount of simple chemical experiments that can be done at home with regular household items. Pinterest has a lot of great ideas for safe at home experiments. 

7. Drones
The drone revolution is coming. Instead of fighting innovation, let's embrace it. The kids can learn how they fly and learn about potential uses of this technology. I plan to buy one soon so the kids can learn all about them. If Amazon has its way, then drones will be delivering to our doors within a few years. 

8. Compound Interest
How do you teach a 6 year old about an important yet abstract mathematical principle which will serve her well for her entire life? I used an analogy of something that she could understand with a simple line of questioning. Suppose you cut an apple, what's inside? Seeds. What happens if you plant one? And how many apples are in that tree? How many seeds are in all the apples? So from a single seed over time you can grow an orchard. We then drew it to create a visual representation of the concept. See here for a longer post on this exercise.

I can't take the credit for this concept. The ideas of Neil DeGrasse Tyson have been very influential on me. Children are naturally inquisitive and parents would be well advised to get out of the way while their kids are conducting mini-experiments. The young and impressionable minds will learn so much about the world if we would just put them in positions to do so and get out of the way.


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