For the love of science


Making learning fun is a challenge for many people that interact with kids, whether they’re parents or childcare workers. Trying to balance fun with actual educational content can feel nearly impossible. But the science of the world around us can be very interesting and even downright enjoyable and teaching the scientific method doesn’t have to be done with a slideshow. If you ask the right questions, and point kids in the right direction, you can have them learning about things without even trying. Because if there’s anything that is a stereotypical childhood quality, it’s curiosity.

A good trick to grab a kid’s interest in the world around them is to ask them questions. Now, you’ll want it to be something that they could conceivably answer by experimenting in the yard or on the kitchen table, etc. And it can be something easy, like “Do you think ants prefer sugar water or goldfish crackers?”. This is the example I’ll use. The “do you think” of the question is to get the child to give you a hypothesis, maybe without even knowing that’s what they’re giving.

The scientific method is actually a pretty simple concept, and getting a kid interested in it can be done when you really embrace that you’re going to “be scientists” today. Something as simple as “a good scientist follows these rules” can mean a lot when you say it to a kid trying their best to be a scientist that day.

The basic steps of the scientific method are 1) Question, 2) Research, 3) Hypothesis, 4) Experiment, 5) Look at the Data, and 5) Conclusion. The question would be what was said earlier, “Do ants prefer sugar water or goldfish crackers?”.

If you want to go completely all out, lab coats are pretty inexpensive to buy online or even in person (costume stores have them for example). And kids love to play dress-up. Letting them dress as a scientist and really embracing the play aspects of the experiment could get more story-oriented kiddos interested. Since many kids enjoy playing pretend anyway, having the game be a scientist running an experiment (maybe to save the world or some such if you’re feeling particularly ready to get some story-building going) just means more investment from a lot of children.

Back to our ant. So we’ve asked the question. Now it’s time for step 2, research. A quick guided Google can help introduce the idea that a lot of information for scientific work can be found online. If you feel like explaining the concept of peer-review you could here (the simplistic kid-friendly idea being that some papers are checked over by a bunch of people to make sure that they’re right, like if you had multiple teachers checking your essay). But because the questions you’re asking probably won’t get too complicated, and you don’t want an answer with overly complex wording, just a regular Google search should be fine. Searching “what kind of things do ants like to eat” should get you a good amount of results that state they enjoy sugary nectar for example.

Based on your research, you can now ask the kid you’re working with to make a hypothesis. Explain that a hypothesis is basically what they think will happen, but a scientist makes a hypothesis after doing their research (so it’s more than just a guess). Maybe the kid will suggest that because ants like sugary nectar, they might prefer sugar water to a goldfish cracker.

The next step is to guide them through an experiment that will test the hypothesis. Ask them how they would find out which one the ants like better. There are a couple things they might suggest here. The most obvious is finding an ant pile and putting both things at the same distance from the pile and seeing which attracts more ants. Consider asking some questions here to get them thinking about science and reliable experimentation. You could ask why it’s important to have both the sugar water and goldfish cracker the same distance away. You could also ask them why someone might want to do the experiment more than once (more testing helps to get rid of any issues that would occur from one instance being a fluke for some reason).

Finding an ant pile shouldn’t be too hard depending on where you are. Once one is found, you can set up the experiment area. Talk about how long you want to leave the food there for the ants to find and have a piece of paper and pencil ready to count the ants. Maybe ask for ideas on how you can avoid accidentally counting any ants twice. One good setup is to let the ants go wild for 15-30 minutes and then block them off from the food temporarily, and just count all the ants that are around the sugar water and then all the ants around the goldfish. This way, you know you’re not getting any repeats.

Once you’ve gathered all your data, it’s time for your kid scientist to make a conclusion. Which food did the ants seem to like best? Did the data support the hypothesis or reject the hypothesis?

After you’ve made your conclusion, see if they can think of any ways that might change how the ants feel? What if you crushed the goldfish cracker into small crumbs that are simpler for them to handle? What if you used solid sugar instead of sugar mixed with water? It’s fun to keep kids invested in all the different branches testing something can go down. And most of the time, when you run an experiment and gather results from it, you should end up with a bunch of exciting new questions.

Running a science experiment with young minds can be a lot of fun, particularly if you do small things to inject excitement into it. You don’t have to make your test about ants, maybe choose an easy question that a child will be interested in. It can be anything from what toy a dog prefers to does it take longer for ice to melt in a glass full of water or a glass full of air. Just find something that you can test without much preparation and inject a little bit of personality into it with some play pretend scientist. It will be fun for them and probably a lot of fun for you as well.

What are some fun experiments you enjoy at home with your littles? How do you foster their love for science? Please share and comment below, I’d love to read your stories and tips!

About Emma Hartsock

Emma Hartsock is an undergraduate student at the University of North Texas, majoring in Sociology with minors in Criminal Justice and Biology. She’s got experience in everything from volunteering as a summer camp counselor and regular babysitting, to just happily hanging out with her younger cousins and brother. She spends her time working hard at personal projects such as her writing, design, and any other various enterprises she has on the burner.