Kids-Magic-Science
How can we possibly compete with that?

Well, I’ll tell you—we don’t actually need to compete with the magical world of Harry Potter, but we can definitely take some lessons. Our children are born to figure things out, explore, experiment with new ideas, make mistakes, get messy, and do it all over again. They’re fascinated with things that fizz, explode, combust, change color, and combine. They want to know what makes our world work the way it does.

Fortunately, you don’t need a magic wand to create an atmosphere of science for your kids, nor a dungeon stocked with vials of sinister substances. There are simple things you can do in your home to inspire in your children a love of science and give them the confidence to pursue their interests. Follow these six steps to support science at home so your kids can experiment with the magic of science to their hearts’ content.

1. Wow them!

With a few simple supplies, you and your child can do some demonstrations in your home kitchen that will make their eyes grow wide with amazement and delight. If it’s edible, messy, colorful, fizzy, or exploding, they’ll love it. Baking soda and vinegar volcanoes, color-changing solutions, balloon-powered racers, hovering magnets, simple chemistry experiments, and anything involving candle flame – all are pretty much guaranteed to spark your child’s curiosity and bewitch their minds, even ensnare their senses. They’ll ask lots of questions and want to repeat these experiments over and over. In other words, they’ll be inspired to keep pursuing science.

2. Give them space.

Young kids need a space where they can make messes, try new things, and create their experiments. You can devote a corner to a table for science and make it accessible to the kids for whenever inspiration strikes.

Your kids most likely won’t have a sense of urgency brought on by a pressing need to fight powerful dark magic, thus won’t be motivated to ask you to haul out the science stuff from a cupboard every time they want to try out an idea. By providing easy access to space for doing science, you let them know that experimenting and trying new things is part of daily life.
Let your child know that this space is theirs, where they can do the work they are interested in doing. Don’t offer advice or direct their experiments. And even more importantly, resist all urges to tidy it up, put things away, rearrange, or otherwise manage their workspace. If you find your shoulders starting to tense up at this suggestion, I totally understand where you’re coming from. But let me ask you this: how would you feel about making your own experiments or projects if someone came and swept all your things away at the end of the day? Just create a boundary for your child’s work zone and let them know that everything within it is safe. If their workspace is in a corner of the family living room, or beside the kitchen table, you can toss a cloth over it when you need to hide the evidence; just don’t clear it away.

3. Provide supplies.

Kids are crafty. They’ll find what they need. Even if you don’t have private stores of potion ingredients, odds are that your kids will eventually locate and co-opt something which you’d rather they didn’t – your fabric shears, for example, because they’re sharp enough to cut through popsicle sticks. So give them their own supplies.

The Magic Of Science - Supplies
Provide a selection of interesting books for inspiration and reference. You can find wonderful encyclopedias on science topics to keep on hand, and your children will appreciate stacks of library books on whatever topics they are interested in. I also recommend keeping some good experiment books on hand. (Do not be taken aback if the books become multifunction tools: often, in the service of science, books provide more than inspiration and will become things like ramps, construction panels, weights, and inclined planes. If you find this difficult to observe, I have found that buying used books affords a certain amount of freedom.)

The Magic of Hands-on Science

Science can’t be learned from books alone; it is the process by which we grow to understand more about how the world, and the universe around us, works. To do this requires keeping other supplies handy, and will involve messy creativity.

Depending on the ages of the children in your home, certain supplies can be stored in containers under the table, or nearby if they need to be out of reach of the youngest kids. I recommend four types of supplies for easy access; here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Craft supplies – items such as popsicle sticks, coffee stirrers, rubber bands, straws, clothespins, paper clips and fasteners, washers, string, balloons, index cards, pencils, markers, toothpicks, modeling clay, play dough
  • Recyclables and containers – small boxes, clean jugs, plastic bottles, egg cartons, mixing bowls, yogurt tubs, any other small bottles or jars with lids that you can provide, berry baskets or other sifters/strainers, paper plates
  • Sticky stuff – clear tape, duct tape, masking tape, electrical tape, glue sticks, school glue
  • Tools – magnets, scissors, low-temp hot glue gun, hole-punch, stapler, spoons of various sizes, and a couple of plastic trays to contain messes (such as cafeteria trays)
You may decide to add items such as nails, clamps, bits of tubing, foam pieces, batteries, wire, and any other things that would be appropriate for your children, depending on ages and interests. A good chemistry set, for example, would make a wonderful addition for an older elementary or middle-school aged child. There’s one other category of supplies that I keep on hand, but not necessarily at the science table, and that’s the really messy stuff. Large containers of vinegar, bags of baking soda, huge bottles of school glue, boxes of borax, etc. — I keep these things at the ready and can send them outside for all the necessary experiments. Or to the bathtub on bad-weather days

4. Banish expectations and perfectionism.

Remember how Harry Potter could never make potions well when Professor Snape was breathing down his neck, criticizing and belittling him? And as soon as he was on his own, he was able to concentrate and create successful potions? Well, he’s not the only one who performs better when not being scrutinized. Keep this in mind, and do not come to the rescue or raise your eyebrow when something goes wrong.

In fact, pay no attention to the science work unless you’re invited, and even then, remember you’re the audience and your child is the discoverer. Be delighted and curious, but be an observer. Let your child direct their own attention to what interests them. Keep in mind that some of humanity’s greatest discoveries were possible only because of someone’s mistakes! Even though it’s fair to say that spilling an entire box of baking soda on the driveway will not make your child a science prodigy, your response can make all the difference in the world to them. If you shrug and say, “Well, that was unexpected,” they’re much more likely to feel safe to make future errors than if you sigh exasperatedly and tell them to be more careful next time. (Or cause the contents of their potion to vanish, leaving them standing there foolishly beside an empty cauldron.)

5. Pay attention to their interests, motivations, and learning styles.

When scientists perform experiments, they seek answers to their own important questions. Your child has questions. Lots of questions. Pay attention to what your child is curious about, and support their efforts to figure things out. If your child desires to learn what makes rockets go up, assist them in gathering supplies and books to support their endeavors. If they want to write messages in disappearing ink, allow them to try different strategies until they are satisfied. The best gift you can give your child is your attention to what makes them tick. Your support for their work as they experiment will pay off as they grow into students, and then adults, who value science and are unafraid to try new things in pursuit of understanding.

6. Allow for mystery.

Yes, do have conversations about your child’s interests and questions, but don’t give the answers away. Don’t jump ahead and make things easier, thinking that your child will make connections and leap forward in scientific understanding. It just doesn’t happen that way – there are no shortcuts for experience. Be kind but evasive if you have to, to allow your child to figure out the meaning of something. When asked what you see, you could answer something like, “Warm woolen socks,” as Dumbledore did when Harry asked what he saw in the Mirror of Erised. Very mysterious, and even a little infuriating. But if you tell your child what you think they should see, they won’t need to look for themselves.

The magic of science in the home is that we do not need to reduce it to dry facts that fit neatly into multiple-choice questions on worksheets.

Our kids can do the messy, fun, interesting work of science: they can ask important questions, make experiments, observe things in new ways, and participate in the mind-bewitching, senses-ensnaring experiences of discovery. Create an atmosphere that supports open-ended discovery, and you lay the foundation for your children to develop their natural drive for scientific inquiry. It’s like magic.

The Magic Of Science - Curiosity

Because nothing seems quite as magical as chemistry, that’s a perfect way to inspire your child’s curiosity with science at home.

The REAL Science Odyssey Chemistry (level 1) curriculum from Pandia Press provides a wonderful foundation for building real science skills while engaging your child’s interest and cultivating a life-long love of science. Be sure to take a look at the course description and download a sample including a supply list, table of contents, and sample lessons with worksheets. 

For more ideas on fun chemistry activities you can do at home, check out the Pandia Press REAL Science Odyssey Chemistry Board on Pinterest. 

Denise Wilson

Denise Wilson is a pro-level follower of rabbit trails who has homeschooled her middle-schooler since he was four (it was his idea). Her work includes writing for children and the adults who love them; creating and teaching science courses for middle-schoolers; and the general magic of the everyday. Denise’s family loves reading, traveling, table games, making stuff, and playing with their dog, Charlie Barker. She blogs about their secular, eclectic, weird but awesome home education life at BackyardOwls.com .