Science has always informed my life. My professional life is dictated by science – and my previous professional life was spent teaching science to middle schoolers. As a kid some of my earliest memories are watching Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom” with Marlin Perkins. Since then, in my opinion the best programming on television is anything by Bill Nye “The Science Guy”, Steve “The Croc Hunter” Irwin, Jeff Corwin and the “Mythbusters”. Science holds at its core certain values (don’t worry, I won’t let this blog go down the science vs. religion path): critical, rational thinking, weighing evidence impartially before forming an opinion, requiring credible evidence before forming an opinion, and being willing to reformulate an opinion in light of new evidence. In short, science teaches us to think logically, to formulate our own ideas about how things work, to humbly acknowledge that we can always be incorrect in our understanding of things, and to welcome rational discussion that leads to better understanding.
These are values that I want my children to have. I want them to be curious. I want them to explore the world. I want them to have the self confidence that comes with figuring things out for themselves, and I don’t want them to accept blindly somebody else’s logic, no matter what position of authority that person might hold (yeah, I’m looking at you Mrs. Ussery from my 5th grade year).
It’s important for any child to have those skills. It’s especially important for girls.
So I have encouraged all these things in my daughter from the day she was born. I have always encouraged her to ask, touch, feel, smell and explore the world around her. Usually the most interesting things in nature are slimy, or sticky, or stinky. Never have I imparted a value-statement on those observations when my daughter makes them. Instead of saying “Isn’t that stinky/Isn’t that sticky/Isn’t that yucky?” I say “Isn’t that cool?” Young children will look to the adults in their life to tell them how they’re supposed to react to any situation. Try it the next time your kid falls and skins his/her knee. Instead of sweeping them up dramatically in your arms and saying “Does it hurt?” just brush them off and say “You’re all-right”. They’ll believe you either way. My daughter, when presented with something potentially sticky/slimy/yucky, is now conditioned to pick it up, look at it, think about it and then say to me “Look at this Daddy. Isn’t this cool?” Over the course of her 5 1/2 years this has made for some pretty fantastic photo ops.
Since this is a post about science it wouldn’t be inappropriate to present the nature vs. nurture argument here. After all, my wife was the one who got in trouble in kintergarden for chasing the boys around the playground with worms (my daughter starts kintergarden in the fall). As my daughter moves into the academic phase of her life, one thing I will never EVER let her believe is that “science is for boys”.
Good luck in kintergarden in the fall, sweetheart. After it rains we’ll walk over to the playground together and I’ll show you where to find all the best worms.