Saturday, August 15, 2009

A Little Science, Please

Odds are, at least someone you know is a Christian. I'm really not sure about the demographic data of my readers, but I'm going to take a guess here that the majority of my readers know a child, or know someone who knows a child, who is being raised religiously. Got that? You know a "Catholic child" or a "Evangelical child" or a "Muslim child".

As you probably know by now, I was raised holy-flipping-fundie-gelical (and a faith healer to boot!) so my home-school/christian school/ public-school-in-Florida education left me woefully ignorant of many things. Also, the brainwashing didn't help.

As I've confessed many times before, I was a creationist. But I wasn't a Young Earth Creationist. Why not? Because I've loved geology since I was 3. I was about 6 when I asked my mom (then writing her dissertation) if I'd have to get a PhD to be a geologist. (She said yes, and so that dream died a little.) But I've always been fascinated by rocks and gemstones. I've moved fifteen times since I started my rock collection, and it's been lovingly packed and carted around the country with me each go around.

Since I started absorbing scientific factual information about the earth's stones and minerals at an early age - and in a completely oblique, non-threatening way to my parent's religion (not head-on like evolution) the claims for a young earth seemed appropriately ridiculous to me. (It would take another couple decades for the whole talking snake theory to seem equally ridiculous, but I'm okay now.)

(Seriously? Go back and click that talking snake link. You'll think me later.)

So here are some ideas I've had about ways to introduce science and scientific facts and principles to kids growing up in "godly" homes that you might know and love. Those are mostly targeted at early elementary and preschool aged kids, cos that's what I have one of.

Science With Me - This site is so cool! You have to sign up with an email address, but you can opt-out of receiving emails and they don't sell your addy. (Oh yeah, it's free.) Little Man really loves the animations. His favorites are A Steam Engine, That's Me (which talks about converting energy) and the Heart (pumping and ventricles and oxygen, oh my!) The whole thing is fantastic, and there are also some cute games. This site is really ideal for toddlers because the games are repetative. Little Man's favorites are the Apparatus Matching Game and the Solar System game (drag the planets to their orbits).

National Geographic - They have magazine subscriptions for every age. Little Man started with the infant magazine, National Geographic Baby Animals. This has very thick pages that can deal with drool and grabby hands, and mostly is just very simple four-word sentences and pictures of baby animals. He's now onto National Geographic Little Kids (ages 3-5) which has a lot more detailed information, but still in a very age-appropriate format. I look forward to continuing these subscriptions for years. The link goes to their kids website, which has things for kids between 4 and 12.

Blue's Clues - Yeah, I went there. "Oh no it's the television! It'll rot their brains!!!" Seriously, have you guys watched Noggin? (If you don't have a preschooler, probably not.) My son has speech delays and has been in therapy since before he turned one. And I still credit Blue's Clues for most of his language development. What's even more important is that it's a show that encourages thinking, making observations, and journaling ideas. Plus, I don't know a single religious parent who allows ANY secular TV who objects to Blue's Clues. It's cute, harmless fun that encourages thoughtfulness and experimentation. Many episodes feature "nature" issues (ahem, science) such as seasons, weather patterns, and habitats.

And on the TV front in general? I honestly think I learned more watching "too many hours" of PBS as a kid than I did in the first four years of school. Mostly because I remember asking my third grade teacher when we were going to start discussing negative and imaginary numbers, because I'd learned about them on Square One. My teacher said (I kid you not), "Those don't exist until you're older."

Yes, that is John Cougar doing a guest appearance. Seriously, how can you not love a show where they do cheesy math skits like this? (Remember readers - I am a HUGE nerd. And proud of it.)

Sid the Science Kid - This is a semi-annoying PBS show (I just don't like Sid's voice) but is all about science. The website is also truly fantastic. Each episode covers one scientific question and the testing of several hypotheses. Example: Sid realizes he can drown out the sound of his baby brother crying when he puts his hands over his ears. He spends the rest of the episode experimenting, surveying other kids at school, asking his teacher, researching, etc. and learns (along with the audience) all about sound waves and the shape of the human ear. Pretty cool stuff for an animated half-hour cartoon. Both this website and the Blue's Clues one take a heavy toll on the memory of my ancient computer, but otherwise the Flash games are very fun.

You can find lots of cool home science experiments on YouTube.

This one is so cool looking, it led me to call my scientist brother (handy!) and get a really interesting lecture on the surface tension of water, emulsifiers, and pretty pretty food coloring.

If you have more suggestions, I'd love to hear them. The most important thing about all these (IMNHO) is that they encourage kids to ask questions and seek answers. A plus is that they slip in under the radar of well-intentioned and woefully ignorant parents. :)