For millions of parents across the world, this is the first time ever that they will have had to take on a homeschooling role. The pandemic has shut schools down completely – on more than one occasion in some locations – and it has understandably worried parents about their children’s long-term education. The home-schooling fatigue is hitting both parents and children alike, and for the more technical subjects like math and science, it’s all the more challenging to keep everyone motivated and interested. Below are some simple tips to teach kids science at home to keep it fun and exciting, even after all these months:
Make it interesting and get practical.
One of the simplest ways to keep science lessons interesting is use what you’ve got around the house to keep it simple. Whether it’s making a papier-mâché volcano, making slime, or even doing the viral Mentos experiment, the most exciting things have valuable scientific lessons in them, even if that thing is found on YouTube. Depending on the age of your kids, they may be missing the resources and facilities at school that allow them to do more complicated lessons in science, but many concepts can be taught at the basic level and using common ingredients. Bring the fun back into science by using cheap, accessible ingredients that may already be available in your kitchen.
Balance practice and theory.
Too much of one thing is never good in any aspect of life, but when it comes to education, it’s especially true. School is fun for kids because there’s usually a good balance of study and practical lessons. However, going from math to music, science to art, history to drama, keeps their education segmented between the books and the hands-on approaches, which allows for their minds stay interested due to the variety. With online schooling, it makes keeping their education segmented difficult, with them stuck behind the monitor all day.
We wouldn’t do a full day of practical classes, and we can’t expect them to be buried in books all day, especially when at home. Both textbook learning and practical learning are equally important in a child’s education, so set targets to try to segment their education at home by balancing between their book study and their messy, experimental play times.
Take it outdoors.
Science is a lesson you can always keep fresh and different because of all of the various subdivisions of the subject. Physics, chemistry, and biology allow you to break up your lessons with very different activities, and one thing you can do is bring it outdoors. Whether you are teaching photosynthesis, ecology, or biodiversity, a breath of fresh air is always a welcome break during any school day. Walks on lunch breaks have been proven to boost productivity, which will, no doubt, be beneficial to both you and your child.
One of the benefits of homeschooling is your kids don’t have to stick to a very strict schedule, like at school. Pandemic fatigue is hitting us all hard, and some days it’s just not realistic to follow through with the plan that you set out with. There are many different concepts that science can help us explain. Be open to changing your plan to something else if your kid isn’t showing any interest in what you had planned or mix in something they do like. If you are teaching the difference between insects and spiders, have an art project built in where they can build their own insect or spider with pipe cleaners and pom poms. This is still learning science and reinforcing concepts—like insects have antenna and six legs, while spiders have eight legs.
Group the kids together.
Rather than overwhelm yourself with three lessons for three different age groups, don’t be afraid to group your kids together to teach some subjects that have good overlap. For your older ones, going back to basics will be a good refresher, and for the younger ones, it’ll be a head start. Don’t feel pressured to stay within the confines of the normal curriculum. Though, picking subjects the kids have inquired about will generate personal questions that will cater to the different age levels. But of course, try not to pick a topic to far out of each kids’ understanding, as it will discourage them from asking questions and engaging in the lesson.
For example, mixing baking soda and vinegar could be used for many different ages at different levels. For really young children, focusing on the observations of bubbling and sound and talking about solids liquids and gases is enough. For slightly older kids, you can talk about what is inside the bubbles and design an experiment to collect that gas. For even older students, you can have the child draw it at the molecular level and write out the chemical formulas. They can test reaction rates, too. As you can see, all these different concepts can be covered with one activity!
Most importantly, remember that this time is tough for everyone. Don’t beat yourself up if the days don’t go to plan and have fun exploring the world of science with your children.
Stephanie Ryan earned her Ph.D. in the Learning Sciences from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She has an M.S. and B.S. in chemistry, from the University of Illinois at Chicago and Saint Mary’s College, respectively. She has taught science in formal and informal settings from K-16, and developed curricula for After School Matters programs in Chicago, Illinois.
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