Sunday, February 24, 2013

Science and young minds.

The beautiful thing about getting children interested in science is that one doesn't even have to try.  All you have to do is introduce a tiny seed of wonder in an already inquisitive mind, and the child will take it and run with it.  The key element is that you have to seize the opportune moment when the child is open to receiving ideas.

Last year, during spring, Puttachi and I took many walks in the park, and my curiosity about trees rubbed off on her.  Soon, she was picking up any leaf or flower or fruit on the road and trying to identify it.  When she found a flying seed, I told her about seed dispersal, and she spent an entire evening looking for other seeds like that.  Though we haven't spoken much about tree identification for a year, when she saw the green bursting forth around her this spring, she brought up the subject herself, saying, "Spring is here!  Let's look out for the flowers!"  And now I know that this love and curiosity about the trees around her is going to stay with her.

Similarly, we built a 3D puzzle of a dinosaur skeleton, and that triggered off an interesting conversation that I have blogged about before.  And then there was one day when we spent an entire hour watching a group of monkeys from the window.  I pointed out the alpha male to her, and told her all I knew about monkey behaviour as and when it happened.  And she still remembers it, and brings up these concepts during conversations about other animals too, asking which the alpha male is.   Or she tells me about something she saw in a nature book months ago at her grandparents' house, and about which one of the grandparents talked to her.  Sometimes it stuns me when she remembers clearly, conversations that happened even two years ago.

The common element in all these conversations is that when she showed interest and curiosity, I made sure I immediately gave her whatever it was that she wanted.  If I had waited until a more comfortable time, she would have been engrossed in something else, and might not have been as receptive.

That is why, just last week, when I was arm-deep in cooking, and the kitchen platform was a mess, Puttachi insisted that she simple had to try out the jaltarang by herself.  "Later," I said, looking at the messy counter, but then, I shrugged.  So what if there is chapati flour on the counter?  I just set out the glasses and gave her water and a spoon, and she stood right there, and spent an hour experimenting with sounds and different levels of water.  Right after this, she wanted to try out what sinks and what doesn't in water, and I gave her various objects to try.  Then I demonstrated how a needle sinks in water, but when placed on a paper which is placed on water, the paper gets wet and sinks, and the needle stays afloat.   She was so fascinated that she spent another hour with it, and when she tired of it, she played with all the mushy paper that resulted from the experiment, and that set off a discussion on paper making.....

You get the idea.  there is never "one right time" to teach a child something.  But you really have to be ready to give the child what she needs at that moment.

And offhand conversations can have such a deep impact.  Years ago, when I was studying Energy Engineering, my then 5-year-old cousin and I had had a conversation about the subjects I study. I don't even remember this conversation too well, but a few days later, my aunt was surprised to see a drawing he had made.  He had drawn a volcano, with lava flowing out of it.  He had drawn a wire, one end of which was connected to the lava, and the other end to a glowing bulb.  My aunt asked him where he got the idea, and he told her that Shruthi Akka told him.  My guess is that this was his interpretation of what I told him about geothermal energy!

It is very exciting, actually.  To see sharp minds understand concepts far beyond what we think is possible for their age - just by one conversation, one activity, one book.  The potentials are endless.

(Written for Tulika Books' Science Blogfest for National Science Day)

Updated to add: This blog was judged one of the three best entries in the contest.  Will get a book as prize! :)


Radhika said...

So true. Just that we need to have patience to allow the child to try what it wants without worrying about the house getting messy. Also answer in a way the child can understand.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful tips Shruthi. It inspires me to be more patient with Mihir's 'experimentative but messy' moods. :)

I am eagerly waiting for the new Tulika science series books! And I am going to share this on our FB page if you don't mind.

Sudipta Chatterjee said...

Wow - visiting your blog after so long, but as always it was a treasure to read! Can't believe your Puttachi has grown up so much: the last stories I remember are those of her 6-month old self. Will be back! :)

Raj said...

Lovely post.

Interesting that you have used 'potential' in plural as "potentials'. Have seen the plural only when used as "thermodynamic potentials' or 'electro-magnetic potentials' etc.

bellur said...

made my day! thanks for this article, shruthi!

charu said...

I remember V and his volcano drawing days. I love your writing style as well as your parenting style.

Shruthi said...

Radhika, exactly!

Devaki, my pleasure :)

Sudipta, hi there! hope you are doing good! :)

Raj, I never gave it a second thought. After your comment, I looked up the usage online, and I think the plural for potential in this sense is not used. So this is probably a mistake. Not sure though.

Bellur, so glad!

Charu, ha ha!! :)

Anonymous said...

beautiful. thank you for sharing this. my cousin sister delivered a girl child last year and 1st thing i did was to share your blog link with her and asking her to start reading your entries starting with the birth of Puttachi...

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