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How can parents support their child's engagement with science?

A commonly asked question I hear in meetings with parents is “Is there anything I can do to maintain or improve my child’s engagement in science?” This comes up both for children whose interest in science is high as well as those who have not yet found their feet in the subject, and it is often from parents whose confidence or enthusiasm for science is not in sync with their child’s. Here I’ll be sharing the three tips that are commonly useful: make science a talking point at home, promote different types of enquiry and curiosity (especially informal ones), and find the right resources.

Talking about science can have many different forms. The simplest may begin by asking the child, “What have you been learning about in science at school?”, but discussing any science related to everyday experiences works just as well, such as how food changes when it is cooked or how a home appliance or tool works. A scientific conversation could also arise in response to something that has been seen or heard on the news. Young minds are sometimes surprisingly perceptive to what really matters within subjects such as the environment and technology. It is worth asking “How do you think that will affect our everyday lives?” or “Can you imagine what they’ll come up with next?” Open-ended questions that encourage curiosity and imagination allow for a much more engaging conversation where there are no wrong answers.

It is common for adults to feel a little anxious about helping their children learn science, especially if it has been a long time since they were in the school laboratories themselves. Good advice is to try and focus more on the scientific process of learning, which is hopefully something that feels more familiar and is less dependent on ‘knowing the right answer’. If you come across a topic that you are unsure about, you can follow different lines of enquiry together with your child to learn more. This could be waiting and watching to see what happens (observing over time), comparing with prior experiences and looking for similarities (pattern seeking), or even preparing a simple experiment at home (fair or comparative testing). See The Primary Science Teaching Trust website for more detailed information about the types of enquiry and different examples.

In addition to wanting to spark interest in science, parents can often want to help their children study to improve confidence and subject knowledge. Hodder Education’s Common Entrance 13+ Science Revision Guide is a good example of how a large curriculum can be distilled into manageable chunks with neat and simple diagrams to help students visualise many topics. Occasional “Ask yourself” sections help learners develop critical thinking skills in the application of scientific knowledge to support medicine, the environment and technology and can make good starting points for scientific conversations. The 11+ equivalent Science Revision Guide has a similar layout, and even includes helpful “Advice to parents” in the introductions for the biology, chemistry and physics sections as well as the opening chapter on “Working scientifically”.

If you are a parent looking for ways to give your child’s interest in science a jump-start, I hope one or a combination of these tips will come in useful. Remember that even if the subject knowledge is not as fresh in your memory as it once was, together with your child you can think like a scientist at home to find out more about what interests each of you.

Stuart Wilson is Head of Science at Eaton House at the Manor Girls' School.

Hodder Education's 13+ Science series is endorsed by ISEB and aligned to their new CE 13+ specifications for the first exams from November 2022

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