When your kid says, “I don’t like science!”

What do you do when your kids say “I don’t like science”?

Don’t panic and don’t argue with them. Your kids are giving an opinion of what they think science is all about, and I’m guessing they haven’t really enjoyed it.

When your kids hear the word “science“, does it conjure up images of sitting at their school desks being forced to read and memorize from a textbook or listen to the teacher mumble on about some science related topic not fully grasping its relevance? Do they think of all the frustrations while trying to complete their science homework when they really want to hang with their friends? Are they stressed out at the thought of not understanding the material well enough to pass a test or quiz?

If that is the case, they are not saying they don’t like science, they are simply saying they don’t enjoy science in the classroom.

The best way to change their opinion on whether to like anything related to science (or STEM) is to redefine what the word “science” means to them. Science isn’t about textbooks or the classroom, those are just convenient ways to get the message out. But really, science is about observing what’s around us and trying to make sense of it all. It’s learning to ask questions and finding possible answers or solutions to those questions. And yes, getting things wrong is a part of science.

Get children thinking more big picture and less classroom. Can you bring more real-life science into the classroom (or your home) to supplement those textbooks?

But back to the expression “I don’t like science”. How do you change their opinion? Do you remember the 2002 movie called “My Big Fat Greek Wedding“? It’s a favourite in our home. In the movie, the father, Gus Portokalos, proclaims that all words are derived from the Greek language. He dares you to give him any word and he’ll show you how it “comes from the Greek“. And yes, some of his analogies are pushing the boundaries.

In my quest to make everyone (not just kids) more science aware, I guarantee I can do the same thing. Give me any of your favourite things and I can tell you how it is rooted in science. I can prove that you do in fact LIKE science. You may even LOVE it!

To try out my theory (or test my hypothesis), at the end of my last in-class workshop, I asked the students, aged 6-8, to tell me about some of their favourite things, and there was no shortage of suggestions or enthusiasm.

  1. Riding my bike. A bicycle is a human powered machine. A bike is a combination of physics and engineering at work to produce mechanical motion. The power comes from you, and biology of the human body is in full swing (or is that cycle?).
  2. Blowing bubbles. The chemistry of the soap film. The way the light reflects on the bubble’s surface. The elasticity and surface tension as the soap film encloses the air. The geometry of the bubble. Chemistry and physics work together and it’s a beautiful thing. And don’t forget about the biology of those human lungs.
  3. Eating ice cream. Clearly a food science success story. Freezing point depression as you cool the ice down by adding salt. Emulsion as you shake the cooled milk. The pasteurization needed to kill off any harmful microbes. The biology of the cow that produced the milk. The engineering of the machinery needed at the dairy farm to collect and store the milk. And the equipment needed to manufacturer the bucket loads of ice cream. And lastly, the human gastrointestinal tract required to consume this tasty science experiment.
  4. Video games. Think about all the electronics at play to get your gaming console to work. Or about the electricity needed to power your device. Have you ever thought about all the coding behind your favourite game? Computer science, engineering and physics! (WARNING: Your kids might argue that screen time is now important because it’s scientific discovery time).
  5. Lego. You need to put your engineering skills to the test to construct your Lego masterpieces. Did you envision a building or a machine? Did you have to rethink your Lego creation because of stability or a design issue? Laws of physics always at work during Lego time along with engineering innovation.
  6. My dog. Veterinary science and medicine. This field encompasses biology, chemistry and physics of your furry friends.
  7. Playing on the swing-set. You are a human pendulum. Exploring Newton’s first law of motion. You are fighting against gravity. You are a human physics experiment using your muscles to go higher and higher!
  8. Making potions. Although I’m not sure what this kid is mixing to make his “potions”, I’m guessing he’s keen on chemical reactions. A future chemist perhaps? Or just a kid who like to make a mess? Either way, all in the name of science.

And then the school bell went and we had to end our discussion time.

See, everyone does like science. We just need to redefine what science is all about. Can you find the science in everything? It’s more than textbooks (although there are science in those too!). Try to avoid putting a negative spin on the subject (even if you, the parent, could NOT stand science in school). Don’t project your previous experiences onto your child. Let them discover it themselves. It’s way to early to start limiting their interests and discovery.

At the end of my classroom visit, I was bombarded with exclamations from the students that included, “I want to be a scientist too!”, and “I want to be just like you!”.  My response is always, “Just be you, but try to learn and explore something new every day! Find the science!”.

Because deep down, I bet you DO like science!

(If you still don’t believe me, I challenge you to give me any favourite thing and I will tell you how “it comes from the science!”)

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