By William Hageman
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Anyone who has fed a baby in a highchair has experienced it: The child throws a dish and watches it hit the floor. You pick it up. It gets thrown again. And again.
He isn't trying to annoy you. He's learning science.
"They're creating theories about how the world works," says Joyce Duckles, a doctoral candidate in human development at the University of Rochester Warner School of Education. "It's cool. The thing keeps going down. I think we underestimate young children a lot."
Duckles and other researchers believe that kids are capable of grasping science earlier than previously thought. In the past, science education wasn't emphasized until the middle-school years. But we now know that kids' attitudes toward science are already pretty well formed by that age.
"Children in the earlier years are already deciding what they have a passion for, and in some ways are making an emotional commitment to it," says Lisa Henson, chief executive of The Jim Henson Co., which produces "Sid the Science Kid," a PBS science show for 3- to 6-year-olds.
Duckles is studying how families present science at home, looking at 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds. "I have families ... who take their kids to the train station and watch the trains go by and talk about how the trains work," Duckles says. "And I have parents who go to the science museum every week. So it's a wide variety of ways of doing science."
Using a straw to blow a small piece of paper across a table is science. So is watching rain fall.
Duckles says a parent can put a scientific spin on any of these activities.
"Sid" was created with the idea that science can be found everywhere. Henson's company has geared not only the show but also additional materials online to make "Sid's" lessons teachable.
"The philosophy was that there's so much science to be learned right in your kitchen, at the steps in your backyard," she says.
This sort of science isn't the same as school science, the standard lessons taught for years.
An effort needs to be made, Duckles says, to reconcile the two approaches.
"When we think about why we want to have a scientifically literate society, it's not to have kids succeed in school science," she says. "It's because we want them to be able to interact with their world."