Chapter Ten-The Science of Toddlers

“I want my magifine glass right NOW Mummy!” came as something of a rude interruption until I met our new lodger weaving its way down the kitchen wall.

As I burrowed through an unforgiving mountain of Megabloks to find it, Raffie got acquainted with Incy Wincy, who thankfully only suffered a mild concussion after getting a bit too close and personal with an enthusiastic two year old.

I’m not keen on spiders, but Raffie’s passion for all creatures great and small is growing daily. So how to help him get the most out of it?

Thankfully, I’m delighted to say that Adam Hart, Professor in Science Communication at the University of Gloucestershire, was willing and able to answer this and other questions on how to help toddlers learn about the world around them.

How can parents who don’t know much about science get started helping toddlers explore it at home?

The key thing to remember with science is that it all starts with good observations and asking questions. It just so happens that these two things (especially the asking questions part!) tend to be things that children excel at, making children perfect natural scientists. Sometimes we can answer their questions but sometimes we can’t. It doesn’t always matter as long as we always encourage them to observe and question the world around them. The other thing to do it to pay a visit to a charity bookshop and stock up on children’s science books. They’ll enjoy poring all over them with you and you may well find a lot of the answers you need buried within their pages. It is also much safer than letting them loose on the internet!

What kind of things can you look out for when out and about?

Anything and everything. However, that’s a bit vague, so here’s some more specific examples:
Lift up things – so important! Animals live under logs and stones, as well as bits of old corrugated iron, planks of wood and so on. Get in underneath and see what’s there. It’s also a great way to teach children about being safe – yes, you might drop a stone on your foot, but rather than not doing something because of the risk, why not show them how to do it safely? And you might just find a big wriggly centipede!
Look, look, look – use your eyes to scan hedges and bushes.
Visit ponds – ponds and other wet places are teeming with life.
Get an umbrella upside down under a branch and hit the branch sharply with a stick. You’ll be amazed at what falls out!
The other thing to remember is that children are mimics. If you don’t like bugs they won’t either. If you think insects are dirty, so will they. If you shout and scream when you see a wasp, or try to kill it, then that is exactly what they will do… But, if you ask lots of questions, try to find animals and get involved then they’ll follow along quite happily.

Mr Woodlouse wonders if he'll ever see home again.

Mr Woodlouse tries in vain to get home.

Some toddlers enjoy watching creepy crawlies, but some parents aren’t that keen! How can we encourage little ones to further their interest?

Man/Woman up! Put on your brave face and nod encouragingly. It’s no different from pretending that the latest “art” offering is wonderful, or that the nativity play was great! Children need encouragement and we happily give it to them most of the time, so it’s really just a case of encouraging them in this too.

Are there any simple science experiments parents can do at home with their toddler?

We “do science” every time we cook, make ice lollies, have a bath, plant something in the garden, drop stones in a bucket, light the BBQ…

We’ve just got a magnifying glass for Raffie, could this form part of a simple science/nature study kit? If so, what kind of other things would come in useful?

A magnifying glass is a great thing to have, especially a good one that doesn’t distort details, but can be difficult for children to use. Magnifying boxes, where you put the thing you want to look at in a box with the magnifying glass built into the lid, can be a bit easier.
A white tea tray is really useful for looking at pond water and soil. It can be useful to have a few pots and jars around too.
The best equipment we have at our disposal are our senses – and not just our eyes. Don’t forget to use your ears and noses when you’re out and about!

Professor Adam Hart, who has top tips on getting toddlers interested in science.

Professor Adam Hart, who has top tips on getting toddlers interested in science.

You can follow Adam on Twitter here @adamhartscience


If you’re looking for things to do indoors and out then Things to Bake and Do has lots of ideas. You can find out more here

The PBS parents website has ideas for toddlers and babies on how to get interested in science, and you read more about them here

2 thoughts on “Chapter Ten-The Science of Toddlers

  1. Thanks so much for the mention. I have to confess I have to overcome my first response when I see a spider (because my natural response is to scream and get my husband to evict it – neither action is really what I want my daughter to pick up!).

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