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What Can 4-yr-olds Understand About Science?

Cliff posted more than 6 years ago | from the show-n-tell-extreme dept.

Education 192

dr.karl.b asks: "My 3 and a half year old son is in Kindergarten. Here in Germany that includes 3 to 6 year olds. He is supposed to explain what his parents' occupations are. I am a scientist, and despite all the advice I have received saying he can't understand what I do, I am determined to try. I study self-motion perception, from basic-science vestibular processing to the role of real-motion cues in flight simulation. We have several cool labs in my institute, like robot-arm motion simulators and full-immersion virtual reality set-ups. We can easily compete with amusement parks for wow-factor, but I have 2 questions: How can I explain my work to my son? How can I invite his class (3-6 yr olds) to our institute to have them learn AND have fun, rather than ONLY have fun?"

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192 comments

4 year olds and science (3, Funny)

grub (11606) | more than 6 years ago | (#19192035)


What Can 4-yr-olds Understand About Science?

They can understand that 6000 years ago a superbeing created the universe and all things within. That dinosaurs lived on Noah's ark and that... oh wait, you're in Germany. Forget all that, you can teach your son actual facts!

Re:4 year olds and science (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19192141)

Can they understand that some people are just mad because they don't have any better explanation?

Re:4 year olds and science (1)

WilliamSChips (793741) | more than 6 years ago | (#19192985)

Even in North Carolina(part of the southern US but nowhere near as far down as, say, Alabama) my biology teacher taught evolution, although apparently if your parents kicked and screamed enough you could get out of biology class for that part of it.

Re:4 year olds and science (1)

Phase Shifter (70817) | more than 6 years ago | (#19194545)

Even in North Carolina(part of the southern US but nowhere near as far down as, say, Alabama) my biology teacher taught evolution
Even in Alabama they teach evolution...or at least taught it two decades ago. I have no idea what goes on in high schools today, though.

Re:4 year olds and science (5, Funny)

adisakp (705706) | more than 6 years ago | (#19194117)

Son... this is the honest truth about the universe:

The universe was created by an all-powerful all-knowing being who came down to us in the form of a cosmic Jewish Zombie who was his own father who can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree.

Your little friends might laugh at you when you tell them, but trust me... pretty much all us grown-ups actually believe this is true.

Re:4 year olds and science (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19195051)

That's gotta be one of the greatest posts ever.

Re:4 year olds and science (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19195071)

They can understand that 6000 years ago a superbeing created the universe and all things within. That dinosaurs lived on Noah's ark

Starting May 28 those of you who live in the Kentucky area will be able to take your kids to a "museum" that will teach them those very things. Presenting AiG's 27 million dollar monument to ignorance. [creationmuseum.org]

Hell, (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19192045)

I can barely understand what it is you do.

Don't forget the Left Brain (0)

mosel-saar-ruwer (732341) | more than 6 years ago | (#19192863)


"Science" [to the extent that it hasn't already devolved into Yet Another Pagan Religion], is just another tiny sub-specialty within the broader discipline of Applied Mathematics.

And let's face it, unless the kid is one of these Korean super-geniuses, with an IQ of 300, who taught himself multi-variable calculus in his spare when he wasn't suckling on his mama's teat, then he [or she] just isn't going to know enough mathematics to tackle anything of any true "scientific" interest until his mid- to- late teens [and that's assuming home schooling; add another five years or more if he's in the publik skewlz].

At the age of four, I'd be concentrating on simple math games [lots and lots of counting], and maybe some pre-geometry, like playing with blocks, and legos, and Transformers, and, of course, drawing [you can never have enough blank drawing paper], but, much, much, much more important than that, at such a ripe young age, would be language skills.

Lots and lots and lots of ABC's, and basic spelling, and phonics out the wazoo, and handwriting, and sing-song games.

Actually, singing is very interesting in that it combines both Left Brain-ish stuff [song lyrics] with Right Brain-ish stuff [musical melodies & harmonies].

In other words: This is a little child we're talking about. Have fun. Make learning fun.

Life's too short to be miserable all the damned time.

Re:Don't forget the Left Brain (4, Insightful)

WhatAmIDoingHere (742870) | more than 6 years ago | (#19193479)

You didn't even read the question. He asked how to explain his job to his kid. Not how to raise a child.

Re:Hell ... self-motion perception (2, Informative)

pbhj (607776) | more than 6 years ago | (#19194601)

He studies

>>> "... self-motion perception, from basic-science vestibular processing to the role of real-motion cues in flight simulation".

So basically he tries to work out "am I moving, am I dizzy, can I see".

I figure he's a professional drunk.

>>> "We can easily compete with amusement parks"

The queue for the water cooler must be horrendous.

Well... (2, Funny)

0racle (667029) | more than 6 years ago | (#19192065)

Given what most adults and High School graduates currently seem to understand about Science, nothing.

Re:Well... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19192551)

naaah just ask the guy who got the funds for the project how he convinced the people who funded it and turn it up a notch.

Kids are BORN scientists.... (2, Insightful)

Ellis D. Tripp (755736) | more than 6 years ago | (#19194201)

Curious about everything around them, and how everything works.

Until they hit 5 or 6, at which time pop culture, peer pressure, and the public school system start working together to stomp the spark of interest wight out of most of them....

Re:Kids are BORN scientists.... (4, Funny)

kestasjk (933987) | more than 6 years ago | (#19195493)

That must be why kids never sit down to watch TV until you explain exactly how TVs work, and why they treat santa claus, the easter bunny and monsters under the bed with such skepticism.

The other day I did the pull-off-my-thumb magic trick to a cute four year old girl, she coldly said "what the hell kind of idiot do you take me for? I've got a trick for ya:" And then she flipped me off and walked away! These toddlers have such an incisive sense of skeptical intuition.

Re:Well... (1, Informative)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 6 years ago | (#19194531)

Don't forget, however, that this guy is in Germany. People there might actually be somewhat knowledgable about science there.

German guy: you really screwed up by asking such a question on Slashdot. Most of the readers here are American (makes sense since it's an English-language site), and the rest of the world should know by now that we Americans know absolutely nothing about science, and most of us believe the earth is 6000 years old and that dinosaur fossils are fakes placed there by God to test our faith.

I suggest asking this question on a German-language site.

Concrete examples (4, Informative)

Metasquares (555685) | more than 6 years ago | (#19192075)

They won't understand vestibular processing, but they will probably understand "that dizzy feeling they get when they spin around". You can then explain why that happens when it does, then talk about manipulating balance for virtual reality (maybe using video games or movies as an example) and the work that your lab does. You just need to find some way to relate it to them while maintaining its "coolness".

Re:Concrete examples (1)

Baron_Yam (643147) | more than 6 years ago | (#19192171)

Six year olds, maybe... I wonder how much of a prodigy a kid would have to be at three to get much out of it.

I say, keep the words small, the concepts basic, and accept that maybe a few of the kids will remember and learn something from the memory when they're older.

Re:Concrete examples (1)

Rapter09 (866502) | more than 6 years ago | (#19192175)

I'd mod you up but i'm without points. This is a great idea, explaining "that dizzy feeling they get when they spin around" -- apply what they will experience in real life to the job. Personally, I wouldn't worry a ton about the learning part. Maybe fit it in when you can, but, they're kids afterall; let them have more fun that worry about working in some sort of mini cirriculum; not saying that you're going that far but the whole experience - for you and the children - would be better if the fun was the emphasis. They'd get to see some really cool things and if you apply real-life feelings and experiences to that same job I know they'll walk away with something remembered for the rest of their lives.

Re:Concrete examples (1)

tsa (15680) | more than 6 years ago | (#19192891)

Virtual reality? At age 4 people don't even know there is a real reality! Get real! ;)

Tailor it to your audience. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19192145)

Explain how your science can be used to destroy enemy transformer robots. Or how it can feed the poor downtrodden African masses. Don't kids care about that stuff?

Or just let the brats have their fun.

4-year-olds don't understand (5, Insightful)

Coryoth (254751) | more than 6 years ago | (#19192161)

According to the studies I've seen 4-year-olds don't tend to have a very good grasp of abstract concepts, and in general understand a lot less than we tend to think -- we adults take a lot of knowledge and conceptual understanding for granted. That doesn't mean you can't make things educational, it just means you have to be careful with exactly what your goals are. I'm guessing that for 4-year-olds even getting them to realise that there is a problem (that we can be cued to think we're moving when we're not) would be a good start. You can probably do that by tricking them into thinking they are moving and then showing them that they weren't. That's relatively abstract -- that their perception of the world isn't always accurate -- but it is the sort of thing that they are starting to get a grasp of at that age anyway. They might not fully grasp it, but there is also the fact even if they don't get it at the time, such experiences have a habit of sticking around and helping inform later realisations, so make it memorable and it will be good. The sort of dawning realisation that could occur, that the world is stranger and more than it appears, and the idea that people (such as yourself) explore such things, well that's a good way to start a fascination with science and trying to understand the world.

Mod parent up (1)

ResidntGeek (772730) | more than 6 years ago | (#19192211)

Coryoth is correct, you don't have a hope in hell of teaching them anything. I've worked with 4-year-olds, and they tend to say things like "You wear a fashion, so you're a jello and I'm going to eat you!" and it makes perfect sense to them. Some can't pull their own pants up. You can have them spin around and get dizzy and say you study that, and that's about all they'll understand. Probably not even that.

Re:4-year-olds don't understand (1)

MoOsEb0y (2177) | more than 6 years ago | (#19192259)

I beg to differ. At age 4, I was quite capable of understanding concepts such as memory, sentence structure, and scientific method. The only thing I truly lacked in that time frame was experience. I wouldn't consider myself representative of all humans, but it's certainly possible. Children are much smarter than typical adults give them credit for. With regards to the sibling post about jello, I'd say that most children are limited not by their mental capacities, but by social order in what is considered "cool" to say. I know I certainly held back a lot at that age not because I was stupid and didn't know anything, but because I knew that I was expected to act a certain way.

Re:4-year-olds don't understand (3, Funny)

markov_chain (202465) | more than 6 years ago | (#19192477)

My dad is a jet propulsion scientist. When I was 4, he had a hard time explaining what he did until he showed me the Navier-Stokes equation. Then I was enlightened :)

Re:4-year-olds don't understand (2, Funny)

Timesprout (579035) | more than 6 years ago | (#19192515)

I beg to differ. At age 4, I was quite capable of understanding concepts such as memory, sentence structure, and scientific method.
Perhaps because it's a well known fact that Mooses develop faster than humans.

Re:4-year-olds don't understand (4, Insightful)

Coryoth (254751) | more than 6 years ago | (#19192521)

I think it's great that you understood so much at such a very young age. The issue of what children understand and their cognitive development has been studied however, and I hate to break it to you, but you would appear to be an exceptional case. Skim through the Wikipedia article on Theory of Cognitive Development [wikipedia.org] and you'll get the idea. At 4 most children are still developing a basic cognitive grasp of the world.

Let me stress (again) that this doesn't mean you can't teach children of that age valuable lessons about science, it just means you have to be careful with your goals. You can lecture the kids on the scientific method, and they'll repeat it back to you beautifully (kids of that age are incredible sponges for information), but that won't mean they'll understand it. I think you'll hve greater impact by playing to their understanding than their remarkable ability to absorb facts. Teaching them that there is more to the world than what their senses tell them, by demonstrating to them (via nice practical demonstrations that they can take part in) that their senses can be easily fooled, is a very valuable lesson. If that goes well you can cover more.

By all means don't underestimate kids, but overestimating their understanding will be at least as bad. At that age (and with the sort of time frame we're talking about) it is far better to give them questions that they can think about and explore themselves than answers which they may or may not understand.

Re:4-year-olds don't understand (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19193415)

and I hate to break it to you, but you would appear to be a total and utter bullshit artist.
Fixed that for you.

Re:4-year-olds don't understand (1)

Peter Cooper (660482) | more than 6 years ago | (#19194125)

I guess it's a different experience for everyone, which is why it's worth taking the individual into account. I can't remember a thing before the age of 5, but I know I was already programming by then (to be honest, it's quite creepy that my first memories include already being computer proficient..) I guess this means younger kids can learn, but the skills picked up will become more innate than factually memorable.

Re:4-year-olds don't understand (1)

solar_blitz (1088029) | more than 6 years ago | (#19193113)

Indeed, a 4-year-old child has very little ability to understand a lot of what this man is asking. As much as I enjoyed listening to what you talked about, I couldn't understand anything beyond "real-motion cues", "flight simulation", and "robot arm", and I'm graduating from college soon with a degree in Computer Science.

I'd be very conservative about what to expect, too. And if necessary, take an entire hour or so teaching the kids about the basics of the basics with a couple of little science projects, then build up their knowledge. Here is my example.

Despite the fact that a child doesn't understand the concepts of gravity, mass, or aerodynamics, they most certainly understand this: when they trip they fall down and hurt themselves, no matter how hard they try they can't fit everything they own into a backpack, and they like paper airplanes. Okay, it isn't an example per se, but you have an idea of what I'm trying to convey: they do have some idea - no matter how small - of how the world works. All our knowledge is built upon these fundamental building blocks, even Quantum Mechanics (though I'd like to see someone try and teach that stuff to a kid).

And if all else fails, tell them you work with robot arms in your lab.

Re:4-year-olds don't understand (1)

DudeTheMath (522264) | more than 6 years ago | (#19195115)

An "entire hour or so"? Those kids will be bored silly. Science for four-year-olds can be done, but it's got to be really tiny slices, and it's got to be stuff they can do with their own hands. OP's lab (now I might be wrong) doesn't sound like a place where the kids can mess about themselves. "Uh-oh!" is something you hear a lot from a four-year-old.

When my daughter was four, we molded Tampa's interbay peninsula out of Play-Doh(R) on a dinner plate, added water, and blew across it "from the Gulf of Mexico" to model storm surge. The keys are (a) have them get "dirty" and (b) ask them "what do you think will happen? Guess!" so they get used to formulating a hypothesis before testing it. They learn something even when they guess wrong.

Creativity (1)

ushering05401 (1086795) | more than 6 years ago | (#19192203)

Focusing on the hypothetical roots of the scientific process may help. Kids know all about imagination, you could help them understand the basics of how their daydreams could change the world using your research as an example of how a dream gets refined into reality.

It would help if you prepared some funny examples of hair-brained failures that eventually led to workable concepts... something like the (now) comical early attempts at flying vehicles that helped refine the field and lead to the first viable aircraft... but preferably related to your field in some way.

You can also use this topic to work in some self-confidence themes... pointing out how some of the biggest dreamers were shunned or whatever but ended up making valuable contributions to the world through perseverence and creative integrity (refusing to sell out to be accepted). If you do this, it would also be nice to point out how lame it is to make fun of others for being different. Kids need to hear more of this type message, or so I deduce from my social interactions.

Not super scientific, but the thought processes are where it all begins. Whatever you do, don't try to do too much. You want to keep the experience light enough that everyone can have fun, while providing just enough 'hook' to start kids with active curiosities down the path the scientific thought. I've been involved in enough educational situations to know that thoughtful yet simple agendas with broad appeal are the most succesful, as they leave the the fewest children left-out.

Good Luck.

Regards.

Anything Non-Numeric, with Patience (5, Interesting)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | more than 6 years ago | (#19192215)

My daughter will be four in a couple months. She understands quite a bit conceptually - how our bodies work (most organs, muscles, bones, red vs. white blood cells), how the Moon was created, what the atmosphere is like on Venus, why we see the moon in different phases (use balls and flashlights!), why the sky is blue, how trees reproduce, why magnets attract (as much as I do anyway...), why balloons go up, why pancakes rise, and lots more.

But, she's just learning basic addition and subtraction now, so I'm not even bothering with conceptual models of chemistry, physics, etc. I also don't think she gets how far it is to her grandmother's house, much less what a light-year is.

These are a few guidelines I find useful:
  • relate everything to something they know, and use every opportunity of something unexplained to learn about science
  • describe the idea science - how we can test whether an apple will always fall downwards, vs. how we can test if Uncle Steve is an angel now (the study of the natural vs. supernatural)
  • start basic and teach in little pieces over time - they all build on each other.
  • If they don't get it you haven't broken it down enough - you may find yourself not fully comprehending a subject when you try to teach it
  • Be patient
  • Don't ever say, "because that's how it is."
  • "I don't know," is a great answer
  • "Let's look it up," is even better.

Because of the building-blocks nature of science, I'm not sure how much you can teach to an entire group of kids who may be at square-1, but you can start with square 1. Maybe make them aware of their physical presence. Have them notice that they feel something when you flip them over. Play a movie for them with lots of motion while they're standing up and have them notice that they sway side-to-side.

Perhaps the greatest realization is that those first basic concepts are just as important as understanding the curvature of space in a warped fifth-dimension string theory, because you can't get anywhere without any of the underlying layers. And the sooner you start, while the brain is making connections like mad, the better off they're going to be later in life.

Oh, and make it fun. Science is a kick.

Re:Anything Non-Numeric, with Patience (3, Funny)

mattpointblank (936343) | more than 6 years ago | (#19192647)

She understands quite a bit conceptually - how our bodies work (most organs, muscles, bones, red vs. white blood cells), how the Moon was created, what the atmosphere is like on Venus, why we see the moon in different phases (use balls and flashlights!), why the sky is blue, how trees reproduce, why magnets attract (as much as I do anyway...), why balloons go up, why pancakes rise, and lots more.


I'm starting to worry here that your daughter understands more than me.

EDIT: (0, Troll)

pizpot (622748) | more than 6 years ago | (#19192219)

"I have enrolled my child in school as early as possible, robbing him of his blissfull childhood, so that me and my wife can go on with our day jobs. I wonder if it was right to take away something he can never have back? As it stands, he won't remember his play years at all and his earliest memories will be of school. Oh dear... I guess he will want to drop out as soon as possible then, and certainly not get an advanced degree. We were actually thinking that he would get ahead, by starting work earlier and thus be able to afford retirement earlier, but now I realize that I got it all wrong... Kids should get to play because most seniours don't bother."

be careful (5, Insightful)

Janek Kozicki (722688) | more than 6 years ago | (#19192221)

I remember reading an article about demographic problems in germany. People have a very small amount of kids, and due to this problem they have unreasonably high expectations about their kids. It is frequent to hire a private teacher to work with the kid, to find many extra exercises for them like swimming, studying foreign languages (even at the age of 3!), etc.

The problem arising from that is a very high psychological stress the kid must cope with. High expectations from their parents cause headaches and other health problems, especially when a kid fails at some task. Give a kid free time.

In fact at that age all kid's time must be a free time. Your job is to find a method to put fun into a learning. Small kids decide what they want to do with their free time only directed by their enthusiasm at some activity. When you find yourself trying to convince him to do something you have already failed. You can only show your own enthusiasm, and show how fun it is. It's in fact easy to convince a kid when you are enthusiastic yourself (which is not frequent with teachers who are bored with their job). But when you see that the kid loses an interest you must immediatly stop.

And expect nothing! If you will expect that the kid will be successfull at anything you will only increase the stress level.

Re:be careful (2, Interesting)

hyfe (641811) | more than 6 years ago | (#19192591)

High expectations from their parents cause headaches and other health problems, especially when a kid fails at some task. Give a kid free time.
I'm Norwegian, and I've travelled a fair bit, and my experience is that 'utterly insane parents with ridicilous expactations' are a largely American phenomena (and interestingly enough, the Swizz too). Here in Norway we do have some failed soccer-players wanting their sons to be the best, but what comes off here as utterly insane seems mainstream over at your side of the pond.

This is just from what I'm told though, from an extremely random, but way too small sample set of people.

Re:be careful (1)

smurfsurf (892933) | more than 6 years ago | (#19192937)

I also do not have the impression this is something even remotely common here in Germany. Maybe he is thinking about Japan.

Re:be careful (1)

WilliamSChips (793741) | more than 6 years ago | (#19193015)

From what I've heard being a good soccer player has nothing to do with any innate talent and everything to do with having the right birthdate so that you're at the maximum age when you sign up for junior soccer leagues, making it seem like you have more innate talent because you're bigger and stronger.

Re:be careful (2, Informative)

hyfe (641811) | more than 6 years ago | (#19193591)

Wow. You've heard very, very wrong then. That statement is very wrong on many levels.

Either way, soccer has very little to do with physical size, and alot to do with technique, balance and how well you read/understand the play. As far as depth goes, it's the most complicated sport I've ever played (complicated as in doing it, not complicated as in the manager does decisions, or you have to remember xxx formations).

Re:be careful (1)

jabuzz (182671) | more than 6 years ago | (#19194123)

Something like 70% of English born "soccer" aka football players in the English Premier League where born between September and December. That is *WAY* out from what you might expect if your age when you sign up to a junior team had no bearing on how successful you might be. The start date for the school year in England is September, making a September born child the oldest in the class and statistically bigger and stronger.

While conceptually you are correct, reality gets in the way. So for example being able to run faster on account of being older puts you in a better position when playing football. You therefore appear better despite having a lack of skill over your younger classmates. You end up in the school football team and they don't, consequently they tend to drop football.

If you look at the hand size of goal keepers in the Premiership it is substantially above average. Please explain that one if it is all about skill?

Re:be careful (1)

hyfe (641811) | more than 6 years ago | (#19194403)

Something like 70% of English born "soccer" aka football players in the English Premier League where born between September and December.
Well, I'm just plainly not going to believe that untill I see a source.. and even if it is correct, I'd still be vary of drawing conclusions from it, English football is rather savage compared to just about everybody else.

Either way, schools don't have football teams.

If you look at the hand size of goal keepers in the Premiership it is substantially above average. Please explain that one if it is all about skill?
I said playing football was mostly about skill. Goalies don't play football.

Re:be careful (2, Insightful)

lawpoop (604919) | more than 6 years ago | (#19194635)

I've spent a year in Finland, and, as an American, I have to agree with you. Although the 'competitive kid' culture varies by region, it is an American phenomenon. I think it also has to do with our competitive corporate culture ( I've heard that Europeans companies think that American companies are dysfunctional workplaces ) and our 15 minutes of fame syndrome. There seems to be a culture of mental illness in our country, and our institutions are generated by it and also feed back into it.

Re:be careful (1)

epee1221 (873140) | more than 6 years ago | (#19193031)

It is frequent to hire a private teacher to work with the kid, to find many extra exercises for them like swimming, studying foreign languages (even at the age of 3!), etc.
When do you think is a better time to start?

In fact at that age all kid's time must be a free time. Your job is to find a method to put fun into a learning.
This sounds exactly like my memories of kindergarten.

If I recall correctly... (4, Insightful)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 6 years ago | (#19192251)

...a 3-6 year old child is still learning how to read and write (and everything else) at a very basic level.

I wouldn't expect them to learn much from a field trip. The best you can hope for is that some of them will say "wow, this stuff is cool" and might pursue it later in life.

IMO, hype up all the cool 'fun' stuff now, because that will stick in their minds. Then, in a few years, try to have another field trip when they'll be able to understand more about what they're seeing.

If you really want to figure out an educational plan, take the teacher(s) on a tour first & ask them to help you relate it to the kids.

P.S. The comprehension abilities between a 3 yr old and a 6 yr old are wildly different.

That Depends (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19192265)

The short answer is that what a 4-year old is capable of understanding depends on what the 3-year old was taught. Yes, it's very disturbing that the average high school student in the US cannot understand much science, but that's not for a lack of intelligence but a lack of teaching (by parents and schools). As mentioned in another note, start with concrete examples that are familiar to the child or children and lead up to the more complex issues, still maintaining examples they're familiar with.

I'm guessing not much (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19192271)

According to developmental psychologists (starting with Piaget [1]) they don't get a whole load of essential stuff like conservation of volume, trains of events logical connection etc. There's no way that they get statistics, etc. All you could hope would be that they'd have fun exploring the world in a way which facilitates the development of those genetically programmed abilities, so possibly something like a Montessori (AMI, not Froebel or any of that non-tested, hippy touchy-feely stuff) environment would be a good start [2].

I suppose to some extent it depends on what you see science as, but to me it's to do with observation (including recording of observations), and hypothesis forming. According to the above that's going on at a very alarming rate in young brains and absolutely massive conceptual leaps are made. If you can keep that sense of fun and excitement going then likely you get an adult scientist.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Piaget [wikipedia.org]

[2] http://www.montessori-ami.org/ [montessori-ami.org]

Re:I'm guessing not much (1)

crush (19364) | more than 6 years ago | (#19192321)

I forgot to add, that Montessori doesn't necessarily focus on science per se, it just tries to provide equipment that is to some extent designed and tested with the idea of making it easy for the child to develop the innate abilities that they're exploring at whatever developmental stage they're at. It's great. Having seen it in action for a few years I'd really recommend it. I do repeat my caution about Froebel and "London Montessori" as being of an inferior type compared to AMI Montessori though.

Re:I'm guessing not much (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19192503)

You forgot to check AC, too. =)

First, lose all the jargon (4, Interesting)

Requiem Aristos (152789) | more than 6 years ago | (#19192289)

Realize that terms like "vestibulo-ocular reflex" exist only to permit one person in the field to concisely convey mutually understood concepts to another person in the same field. Using specialized terms will save you perhaps a dozen words at the expense of being understood.

For a small child, they'll be able to understand that they know when they are moving, and in what direction, and they might even be able to tell you how they [think] they know that. If you have models of the canals in the inner ear, (I'm imagining tubes filled with coloured dye) you can provide an excellent demonstration that they should easily understand.

(BTW, I agree with Janek Kozicki's comment on high expections. While I was able to understand fairly advanced concepts at a young age, it wasn't because I was under pressure. My environment simply encouraged it; one family friend was a physics professor, another let me help out at the local natural history museum, etc.)

Re:First, lose all the jargon (4, Insightful)

TimToady (52230) | more than 6 years ago | (#19192433)

A good exercise would be to translate what you want to say into words of one syllable. "How do you know where you are?" and so on...

And if you can't translate it into words of one syllable, you probably don't really understand it yourself. :-)

Re:First, lose all the jargon (2, Funny)

asninn (1071320) | more than 6 years ago | (#19193493)

Hey, this is German we're talking about. "Monosyllabic German" is a contradiction in terms. :)

Re:First, lose all the jargon (1)

im_thatoneguy (819432) | more than 6 years ago | (#19194083)

"I make models on the compu--"
"I make pict--"
"I draw on the Compu--"
"I make stuff for the screen in your room which is bright and shows films which you watch. I put the stuff in the frame on top of each other with math. I make the fake stuff look real and not stand out from the rest of the real stuff in the frame." *Blank stare*
"I make cool spaceship battles like in star wars." *whheeeeee!*

Let's not forget "Gameboy" is two syllables. Computer is three syllables. Mac is one. Which is a 5 year old more likely to understand? Hell even the number "Seven" is more than one syllable.

Re:First, lose all the jargon (1)

raddan (519638) | more than 6 years ago | (#19192763)

On the other hand, kids are very good at "fast mapping", because nearly every conversation they have involves vocabulary that is new to them. That's not to say that a kid would understand, say, genetic inheritance, if you were to use the field's own terminology exclusively. But kids are very good at learning new vocabularly fast, so give them some pieces that they can chew on. They'll probably ask you what those words mean, on their own, and then you can give them some more.

Vygotsky and others have this idea of a "zone of proximal development". The idea is basically, put a kid in slightly over their head, but give them enough guidance that they can elevate themselves to the next level. Kids whose education routinely challenges them in this way learn faster than kids who are completely over their heads, or who have no guidance from adults or their peers. It also helps explain why kids who are never challenged to think on their own never do end up learning how to think on their own.

Display, Involve, then Explain (5, Insightful)

AtomicSnarl (549626) | more than 6 years ago | (#19193027)

"I study self-motion perception, from basic-science vestibular processing to the role of real-motion cues in flight simulation."

Hi kids! I'm a scientist, and I get to help figure out why people don't just fall over. Everybody stand up. Now, stand on one foot! Good -- Your muscles help keep you up, but why don't you fall? That's part of what I work on. OK, sit down, and I need a volunteer...

I study self-motion perception, from basic-science vestibular processing to the role of real-motion cues in flight simulation.

Ok volunteer -- have you ever caught a ball? Well, step back a little bit, and try this (tosses brightly colored sponge). You caught it! Toss it back, go a little further, and I'll try again. (Tosses sponge again) Great! Now -- just how did you know to do that? One time you were close, then you were far away! What happened to make it work? That is part of what I study too!

Who wants to pretend they're a tree? Stand up and hold out your arm! Wave arm with flappy winged bird doll. (Talk about flying birds coming in for a landing and not hitting the branch, or smacking into the tree.) Airplane pilots have to land their planes too, and not hit the ground too hard. I help figure out better ways to make that happen.

Visual stimulation and silly setups lead into simple explanations that kids can understand because they were entertained and their curiosity aroused. If they're giggling, they're able to learn becaue they're paying attention!

A couple of examples (1)

real gumby (11516) | more than 6 years ago | (#19192317)

Carl Fenman's dad won the nobel prize while Carl was still a little boy. He told me once that when he was little, when his friends said that their father's had "gone to work" he thought they meant their fathers did what his dad would do: make a cup of tea, sit down in the kitchen, and think.

On the other hand, in some ways you have it easy: I have tried to explain to my kid that his dad is a Geschaeftsfuehrer...he cannot understand. Finally I gave up and told him I dig up the road and he seemed to find that more satisfying.

Kids are honest (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 6 years ago | (#19192509)

A grownup would never tell you to your face that he doesn't understand why you got that wonderful office just to sit around and chat with other managers and that this is actually supposedly work. :)

It depends on the science subject. (1)

Z00L00K (682162) | more than 6 years ago | (#19192361)

Many 4-year olds can actually grasp a lot. In that age they can understand more than you think and they absorb knowledge as a sponge, even if it's unwanted knowledge or not.

Of course - they are better off learning concrete science than they are of abstract concepts, since abstract concepts almost always requires good understanding of the written word and mathematics.

Any 4-year old should be able to grasp the use of a hammer and a crowbar, even if that may cause some interesting (or annoying) results.

It depends on the child (1)

badenglishihave (944178) | more than 6 years ago | (#19192407)

I, along with my brothers and sisters, was home schooled from day 1. I am the oldest of 4 and I learned to read when I was 6 years old at my mothers prompting, like most "normal" kids in public school systems. However, my mom started experimenting with the next three children and was surprised to find my sister reading at the age of THREE. And not just words like "cat" or "hat", but real books aimed at 8-12 year olds. While science requires different brain functions, it seems to me that you can't generalize what kids can or cannot learn at certain ages. It really depends on their environment and their inherent ability to understand abstract concepts.

It's all about fun (4, Interesting)

raddan (519638) | more than 6 years ago | (#19192473)

I was fortunate enough to grow up with a father who worked in a very cool lab. My first memories, before anything else, are of being in the lab with my father, who was working on his Ph.D. thesis in Physics, and other grad students, post docs, professors, and machinists. I was exposed to lasers, metalworking machinery, liquid nitrogen (and, unfortunately, liquid nitrogen burns), specialized scientific instruments like the lab's interferometer (yes, they let me crawl around inside), and most importantly, computers. I was given ample time to play with the lab's PDP-11. I made large ASCII-art banners that I printed out on one of the DECWriters (BTW, a kid setting a machine like a daisy wheel printer in motion is sheer joy).

I knew from an early age that I would not be happy doing anything else but using my brain for a living. Despite a momentary lapse in sanity and earning a Bachelor's in Philosophy, I am now working full time as a network engineer while I spend my nights working toward a Computer Science degree. People don't know where I get the energy to spend my evenings after a long day at work doing mathematics and programming, but I say this-- if you had had the opportunity to look through a periscope that your own father had built, or help your father set up a helium-neon laser in front of the rest of the Cub Scout troop, or any of the other countless cool things I was able to do because of science-- you'd have no end of enthusiasm for the pursuit of knowledge either.

Just take your kids to work. Build rockets. Build anything with them, really. Anything but science or engineering simply will not be an option for their fervid minds.

your job description in 4-year-old's terms (4, Insightful)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 6 years ago | (#19192537)

A scientist is someone who tries to learn things that nobody else knows yet. He tries things to see if they do what he thinks they'll do, and if they don't, he figures out why.

As for your job in particular, it sounds like you figure out how people can tell whether they're upside down, and whether you can trick them into thinking they are. Tell the kids you tried putting upside-down photos in front of people and that didn't fool them, so you're trying to figure out what would do it. See what they say about that. (Hint: every suggestion they give, no matter how ineffective you know it'll be... will be brilliant. Because as far as they know, no one's ever tried it, and they came up with it out of nothing but their own imagination.)

Some good ideas so far (1)

Alien54 (180860) | more than 6 years ago | (#19192547)

Let's try expanding on this by explaining

1) that a scientist is a person who tries to figure things out. They are into figuring out problems.
2) There are different kids of scientists.
3) These Scientists are interested in different kinds of things
4) Your interest is in how and why people feel things, such as hot cold dizzy, etc. You can use the ten dollar words, just explain them really clearly.
5) Show and Explain a cool but simple magic trick showing on how you trick people. Explain the trick so that they can do it.
6) Then you can get into movie tricks and special effects.

Things 4 year-old boys can understand (2, Insightful)

melonman (608440) | more than 6 years ago | (#19192557)

1: Explosions

2: Loud explosions

3: Loud explosions that make bright flashes

4: Loud explosions that make bright flashes and make their sister scream

5: Hot Wheels

6: Very loud explosions

It's all about motivation. Sell your kids on the possibility of making stuff happen, and when they grow up they'll do whatever it takes to understand how to make stuff happen. The trouble with most science teaching is that it's just too abstract. 4 year-olds are not good at abstract, and, actually, much the same is true of the rest of us.

Cut out the abstract, put in the concrete (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 6 years ago | (#19192573)

Lemme tell you first of all that I had to look up a good deal of the stuff you said just to have a foggy idea what you might be doing. I dare say that a 4 year old's eyes would glaze over if you started something like this and he would at best interrupt you with a "what does this button do?".

Forget anything abstract. Forget presentations, sheets of paper, drawings, schematics, and especially forget any kind of writing or numbers. Kids of that age are very tactile, give them something to touch and to "play" with. Show them big machines that make lots of noise and that produce something they can touch. Kids of that age are fascinated by action and reaction chains, if at all possible, let them hit the starter button to get something into work, and hand them what was produced by their actions.

If you're in research, give them a chance to participate in an experiment. It needn't be something groundshaking, actually it needn't even produce anything you'd consider informative. It only has to be entertaining so you get their attention, and it has to show them that your work is fun.

Spelling (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19192581)

Spell 'Year'.

I did, in my own primitive way (1)

Tatisimo (1061320) | more than 6 years ago | (#19192657)

I learned to read at an early age (3 or 4 years, can't remember), and spent a big time reading encyclopedias of animals, microbial life forms, and weird things. I had an understanding that there were all those things, but didn't "understand" most of it. It was more of a way to pass time. Still, it was interesting because they did all sorts of weird things and had interesting lives that kept me entertained.

Now that I'm all grown up, I see parents cramming their children with Winnie the Pooh, pokemon, and such, and I notice those kids understand those cartoon characters in the same way I understood the animals from my encyclopedias. When talking to those kids about those "childish" things, they talk in the same way I spoke about animals. There's a stereotype that kids must like "childish" stuff and cartoons so much, that parents end up cramming them with that kinda junk. Give a kid freedom, and he will most the time choose "the box instead of the toy". The problem is not "will they understand", but rather, what will they choose to understand, and what kind of stuff will parents choose to censor, push or encourage.

what is it you do anyway? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19192769)


From what I understand is you are a scientist that works on how stuff moves. movement of things.

Fun is good, too (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19192833)

While I think it is admirable that you want to teach as well as entertain, I wouldn't be too hard on yourself if you only manage to entertain.

Science is often deemed to be boring by non-scientists; you have an opportunity not only to show kids around your lab (which other kids' parents can do that!?), but to show that science is a fun job. If you send a class of kids home saying "When I grow up I want to be a scientist!" rather than "Science is boring" or "I want to be a train driver", you will have achieved a great deal.

Also remember: children learn best when they are having fun. It might be too much to expect to teach them real science, but they will learn more than you might imagine simply by seeing things they (and their parents) never have before, and will remember if these things were fun.

If you want to teach anything about science, try and give them an understanding of the scientific method: I notice something interesting; I form a hypothesis; I collect data to test the hypothesis; I interpret that data; I accept or refine my hypothesis. Of course, you'd have to place all of this within a child's existing frame of reference.

Good luck!

What definitely works (1)

mrjb (547783) | more than 6 years ago | (#19193047)

My father was a chemist. He'd show all kinds of cool tricks: for example, he would let ground pepper float on water, then dip a matchstick treated with soap in it-- the pepper would run to the sides of the glass. This taught us something about surface tension. Likewise would the trick of sliding coins into a full glass of water until the water would rise above the level of the glass.

When we had red cabbage for dinner, he always asked my mom to save some of the boiling water- then would show how vinegar would turn it red, while dishwashing powder would turn it blue. At the time I may not have understood that the cabbage water was a acidity indicator, but it was cool to watch. Like was the time that he dropped a chunk of sodium in water.

You may not be able to pass all concepts and knowledge about science to your son yet. But you'll be able to trigger his interest with little science-based tricks such as the above. Find a book that lists a bunch, it can be great fun.

Re:What definitely works (1)

SavvyPlayer (774432) | more than 6 years ago | (#19194713)

As the father of an inquisitive (in the scientific sense, not the 14th c. Catholic sense) 4.5 yr-old, I appreciate your post. But must argue that your last paragraph unfairly presents science as a mode of thinking in which people rightly allocate a brief period of attention, as though that choice were normal and correct. Why should the inquisitive, scientific mode of thought not be the predominant, normal one? Science is a tool we use to learn about the universe we live in -- this is a Good Thing (TM), right?

Early Childhood Development (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19193083)

Do yourself a favor and spend a little time learning about early childhood development. From birth to 6 years there are stages that most children pass through. A two year old will spend a lot of time just filling a pail and dumping it. Someone a little older may make a cake and pretend to eat it. A little older still, and the child will act out a story with another child.

A three year old child is working on different stuff than a 5 year old. They will have different experiences and need different interaction. If you want to bring kids into the lab, you might start by going to their school and seeing what they do in terms of block play and dramatic play. Then find some children's books about scientists (!). Pictures are good.

Going to the lab will work better if the kids have a context for experiencing it. They know what a doctor is, they've gone to the doctor, they've play-acted the doctor. How do you give them that concrete experience of science or technology? I remember doing kitchen-chemistry experiments with my dad when I was perhaps a little older than the children you are dealing with.

I have an idea (1)

Profane MuthaFucka (574406) | more than 6 years ago | (#19193101)

Show him Terminator 2, and during the scene where Miles Dyson blows up the Cyberdyne building killing himself to stop his robotic creations from taking over the world, tell your kid that you and Miles Dyson have the same job.

I'm just not very good with kids I guess.

One Word "Elmo" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19193193)

4 Yr old?

Involve Elmo in some way, you'll get their attention immediately.

(Kevin Clash is going to take over the world one day, you just wait and see)

Math (2, Interesting)

huckamania (533052) | more than 6 years ago | (#19193413)

Some 4yos can understand and apply math. I have a nephew who is about 7 and doing algebra on his own. Who knows, he may be doing calculus and dumbing it down for the adults.

I would bet that most 4yos understand the scientific method, even if they couldn't explain it. My daughter is 2 years 7 months and I can see the wheels turning in her mind. She has delaying her bed time down to a science. She has learned thru trial and error that being fussy at night results in her being put in bed. So she is extra cute and eager to play new games and show how smart she is. She has also learned thru trial and error that any loud noise from her room will bring one of her parents. The most important thing she has learned is that when Daddy puts her in bed, that's it, she's done for the night and any loud noises will not be rewarded by more time running about.

My wife, unfortunately, is insane, because, as we all know insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. That's what I get for having a trophy wife.

Re:Math (1)

huckamania (533052) | more than 6 years ago | (#19193431)

In defense of my wife, I should cop to the fact that all software engineers are at least partially insane. Tell any software engineer that there is a bug in their code and they will tell you to try it again followed by reboot and try it again.

Re:Math (2, Informative)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 6 years ago | (#19194495)

I'm sure your daughter is both smart and adorable, and will grow up to be a great {climatologist/homemaker/supermodel/general}. But I wouldn't assume that all of the behavior you describes reflects conscious analytical thinking. At least some of it can be explained by simple conditioning, and many of the more intelligent non-human mammals - e.g. my family's dog - exhibit similarly complex patterns.

No. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19193485)

3.5 year olds should ONLY have fun, what the fuck are you trying to stress them. It's their childhood they should enjoy it.

Also tell him you are a scientist and what you mess around with for now, don't force the whole world in his head in one day geez

PS: I have no children and am a virgin at 25, goodbye.

Dear Little Hans (2, Funny)

hey! (33014) | more than 6 years ago | (#19193545)

Your father's job is proving what other people think is wrong.

It is a hard job and very few people can do it. Fortunately, those can do it probably could do few other jobs.

Sinerely

Slashdot Reader

Lots of things (2, Insightful)

rlp (11898) | more than 6 years ago | (#19193647)

1) If there's a local 'hands on' science museum - with demos, buttons to push etc., kids love that. A four year old may not understand everything, but will still learn a lot.
2) Hiking - you can talk about biology, geological processes, etc.
3) Visit the local zoo - discuss different animal species.
4) A trip to the local airport, or (better yet) - an air and space museum.
5) Legos and other 'construction' toys.
6) Toy plastic dinosaurs and (if available) a visit to a natural history museum.
7) Read bed time stories about science and exploration.
8) Computer games and simulatation.
9) Visit a planetarium or an observatory that has an open house.
10) Enroll the kid in martial arts, so later when other kids call them a nerd, they can kick their ass. :-)

4 years old.... (1)

partowel (469956) | more than 6 years ago | (#19193749)

1. Get cyber brain implant.

2. Upgrade your kids brain.

3. Let the kid be a kid if 1 and 2 are not options in your civilization.l

4. Go back in time and implant scientific data into his brain.

5. Install genetic memories into his dna and make him again.

6. Pretend your son is 18 years old and has a brain that is "mature".

7. lol....4 years old.

8. ha ha ha ha ha

Summary (2, Informative)

CaptainCarrot (84625) | more than 6 years ago | (#19193891)

I think it should be easy to get kids to understand that a scientist's job is to find out about how the world works. Beyond that, the best advice you have received here is to 1) Show them in concrete terms what it is you investigate; 2) Avoid jargon, don't try to teach vocabulary, and express ideas in elementary terms; 3) Make it fun so as to engage them.

the process, not the details (1)

dltaylor (7510) | more than 6 years ago | (#19194153)

It is not the details of what you do that is important for them to know, but the (idealized, admittedly) process that you use.

Children accumulate fantastic amounts of data (behavior/socialization even more than "education"). Science offers them another way to test the data for integration into their lives. Teach them the processes of hypothesis and experiment, learning from (positively and negatively) existing publication, and open, rigorous discussion, and the value of free thought that expands the boundaries of inquiry.

Big words for a 4 year old, but they are already doing some of it informally, even unconsciously. "My father says ..." is an example of authoritative citation, after all. Explain to them that there is a usable system for doing it "on purpose".

Your occupation is to use those principles to explore some subset of the universal information space and acquire it for humans.

Hey, let him have a normal life... (2, Informative)

ponos (122721) | more than 6 years ago | (#19194569)

You should only try to satisfy his natural curiosity, to the extent that he is actually interested. I don't think you should force advanced knowledge on a child of his age. Even if he manages to learn he will only have developed "rote" learning and (quite propably) a strong dislike for science, due to the pressure involved. Let him be what he wants to be and gently encourage him.

scientists answer questions (1)

wikinerd (809585) | more than 6 years ago | (#19194585)

Children always ask questions. The job of a scientist is to answer questions to satisfy our curiosity. However, scientists like to answer questions in a specific way: By doing (experimenting). Philosophers also answer questions, but they do so by thinking, not by doing. Religious prophets answer questions as well, but only by using their imagination. You can explain your job AND the scientific method in this way. Ask your child what makes a piece of iron different from a cup of tea. Bring in some LEGO bricks and explain that everything we touch is made of tiny LEGOs. The way these tiny LEGOs are sticked together, and the colour of them, determines whether a set of LEGOs is iron or tea, just like your child can build a house or a car using the same LEGOs.

"I learn, then I teach." (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Freak (16973) | more than 6 years ago | (#19195123)

Science is learning. It's that simple. Tell him that you spend your time learning about one specific subject; that you are trying to learn things that nobody else knows. That once YOU learn them, you help share that newfound knowledge with the world.

That's what science is.

Pique their interest (1)

davidwr (791652) | more than 6 years ago | (#19195161)

4 year olds know concrete things. Use that to pique their interest.

Talk to the teachers at the school. Find out what is best for you to show the students this year AND what is best to show them in return trips in the years to come.

Be prepared to answer a lot of questions on a 4-year-old level and have 5-year-old-level answers in the back of your mind in case some of the 4-year-olds are precocious.

Precociousness (1)

danlock4 (1026420) | more than 6 years ago | (#19195455)

Some children are very precocious. Others take longer to gain their mental abilities... or never gain them. Yet others can understand more than they can effectively communicate, or can give the impression that they can understand more than they really do. Verstehen Sie? :-)

I dealt with this situation last week. (5, Interesting)

CrankyOldBastard (945508) | more than 6 years ago | (#19195589)

Last week I was walking my 3 youngest children (ages 8, 6 and 4) to school, when the eldest of them ( my daughter) said "Dad, Elisha's Dad is a policeman!"

The 6 year old then said "But our Dad's a scientist". The youngest then said "So you mix things together to make explosions then Dad?"

I said "Some Scientists do that, but I don't. But all scientists ask questions, measure or count things, and then write about it".

"Oh" he said. "so what do you do then?"

"It's like this - see how the road is a bit slippery?" - it had just rained that morning. "I start by having an idea that might explain why the road is slippery. Maybe there's lots of tiny little slimy fish on a wet road, and that makes it slippery". He had been amazed by how slippery fish are just the week before.

"That's silly Dad!" he retorted.

"Well, let's see if we can find a way to check if that's why the road is slippery. What do cats do when there's a fish lying on the ground?"

"They lick it" He said. suddenly looking very serious.

"Is our cat licking the fish on the road? What about the cats that live in both houses next to ours?"

He looked about. "No, I don't see any cats"

"So if we counted the number of cats licking little tiny fish so small we can't see them we'd get the number zero."

"Yes" he said.

"And we all agree that if there were tiny slimy fish lying on the road making it slippery there would be at least one of the 3 cats licking them?"

"Yes" he said.

"So is it likely there are tiny slimy fish on the road making it slippery?"

"No, there are no cats there".

"So we decide that the fish idea isn't right. A scientist will then get another idea about why the road is slippery, and he thinks up a way to measure or count something to see if it's a good idea. We keep on going until we get an idea that we can't prove is wrong. That's what all scientists do, no matter what sort of science they study"

He now has a fair understanding of the scientific method, and he knows that we have to measure (or count) things.
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