The Scientific Method for Kids
Science is not a collection of facts; it is a way of viewing and studying the world. Teaching the scientific method for kids does not expect them to reason as miniature adults, but kids can use a simplified version of the scientific method to explore their world.
The steps of the scientific method are:
- Ask a question.
- Learn as much as you can about it.
- Come up with a hypothesis (a possible answer/solution).
- Do experiments to test what you believe.
- What did you find out?
- Tell others what you learned.
Scientific Method Song
Let's take a look at each of these, and find out what we can do to teach the scientific method for kids in age-appropriate ways.
Ask a Question
Of all the steps, this is the easiest and most natural for kids. They are good at questions. You may think that as an adult it is your job to provide the answers. Relax--it's not! Your job is to encourage kids to ask more questions.
Relax--it's not your job to provide the answers!
Remember to encourage thoughtful and open questions (why, what for) as well as the finder-outer questions (who, what, where, when and how). Light your own fire of curiosity and ask your own questions. Your child will follow your example, and you'll be partners in discovery.
Learn By Observation
Remember, if you are supporting the scientific method for kids, you will be taking your child through the steps of discovering their own answers.
Let's say your child's question is,
Why does a plant have veins? The first thing to do would be to find out as much as possible about plant veins. Go find some plants. Study the veins. Ask questions. What do they look like? Why do they branch out like that? Do they remind you of anything?
An important thing to remember is that the shape of something almost always has a purpose in nature. What do plants need, and how might veins help? Why do you think they are shaped like that?
Come Up with a Hypothesis
After studying plant veins, kids will come up with some idea of what veins are for. It will feel natural to say if it's right or wrong. Don't do it!
If you are serious about promoting the scientific method for kids, then you will not jump in here with an explanation or provide an answer.
Let's say your child guesses that
flowers have veins to help them eat food. This is your child's hypothesis. It makes sense in your child's world. Write it down and respect it. Say something like,
That's a good guess! Let's test it and see if you are right.
Experiment and Test
This is where the real fun begins. It is also where it gets tough for adults to know what to do next.
I'm no scientist. How can we experiment to find answers? Remember: we are presenting the scientific method for kids. We don't expect them to find answers to their questions purely by scientific observation.
However, you can still experiment. The easiest way would be to go to the internet and search for experiments you might try. In this case, you might search for
flower veins experiments, and get some interesting suggestions for putting a flower in dyed water. If there are no good or easy experiments, is there an expert you can talk to? A gardener, or florist?
You could, of course, go to the internet to see what others have said. This is one way to get information, but for our kids' generation it is becoming the only way they know to solve a problem. Try to do some more active forms of exploration first, even if it just means going to the library and checking out a book. You are modeling for your child different options for finding information and testing ideas.
What Did You Find Out?
You may be in for a surprise when you ask this question. Kids will hear and understand things differently than you will. Even after experimenting and hearing explanations, they still may not get it.
They may need more help understanding the concept, or they may not be developmentally ready for it. And some kids may simply not want to give up their version of the answer!
That's ok. The right answer is not the goal, though this is a perfectly acceptable time for you to help explain a concept more clearly. If kids are unable or unwilling to take it further, don't push it. Say something like,
I'm so proud of the work you did to answer your question. You are learning more all the time, and becoming a scientist!
Share Your Discovery
If kids are excited about their discovery, they will likely share it on their own and brag to their friends about what they know. You might encourage a shy child to tell grandma about what he did and learned. But remember that your child has already shared this with you, and that may be enough.
Of course, you don't always have to tackle the full scientific method for kids. You can also take it in bits and pieces. Teach kids to ask good questions. Encourage kids to look closely at their surroundings for answers. Give them confidence that they can figure some things out for themselves. They are on their way to becoming young scientist!