Everyday science for kids – science at home

Explore suggestions to discover the science in everyday activities in your home, fostering science interest and literacy in your children.

Science is all around us – it’s in our homes, the vehicles we drive, outside in nature and in the foods we eat.  Whether we realize it or not, science is important to us all. Having an understanding of science is beneficial to all youth; they gain important life skills such as critical thinking, problem solving and decision making that will help them throughout life even if don’t plan to work within a science field. 

This Michigan State University Extension series is designed to help parents and other adults who work with youth explore everyday science opportunities with youth. This article focuses on exploring science at home.  

Science starts with questions. Youth are naturally curious, so if they ask a question like, “Why does that happen?” Or, “What’s this?” that’s where scientific exploration begins! Let’s look at cooking as an example. Involving your child in cooking or baking at home can lead to some scientific discoveries. Each of these common steps:  boiling water, mixing vinegar with baking soda or watching bread rise, involve science. Help your child to safely complete the steps involved in a recipe; depending on the age of the child, she or he will be interested and able to complete different tasks. Check out MSU Extension’s 4-H Youth Development resource to help identify what stage your child is at: ages 5 to 8; ages 9 to 15; ages 15 to 19.

Have them be directly involved in the process and able to see what is happening. They will naturally ask questions; give them a cooking or baking notebook where they can write down their questions and what they observe.  Cooking and baking provides great experiences for children to observe many different food ingredients with all of their senses: they can see, feel, taste, touch and hear as they work through a recipe. Children see examples of raw vegetables, meats, dairy, etc. and then observe what happens to them when they are cooked in different ways.  Cooking with whole foods – e.g.: making carrot cake from real carrots versus a boxed mix – can also help youth connect with where their food actually comes from.

Help them to periodically revisit their questions to see if any of them could be answered.  For those who haven’t been answered, lead them into a discovery of where they can find the answers and continue to explore through another process. For example: a recipe states that you should hand-stir the mixture. Your child asks why he has to hand-stir the mixture rather than just using an automatic mixer. You then ask if he has any idea how they could test to see if there would be any difference in the outcome of these two methods; then direct him into producing another mixture using an automatic mixer and observing if there are any differences or similarities. Discuss what might have caused any differences. If he has ideas, have him record them in a cooking/baking notebook and refer back to in the future.

Teaching youth about proper food handling and sanitation is another important process for youth to learn and complete while they cook and bake. They can be led to investigate more about disease-causing organisms, such as bacteria. Check out the online 4-H curriculum “Fantastic Foods” activities.

Cooking and baking is just one area within your home where you can spark a science interest in your child. Look for the next article which will focus on finding the everyday science in sports and hobbies.

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