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3 Steps to Get Your Child to Think Like a Scientist

by Rachel O. Williams, Founder of Paige & Paxton
· Critical thinking,Tips for Parents,Mindful Parenting,Science for Kids,Raising STEM Kids

Getting your child to think like a scientist means gathering facts and information and making decisions based on those facts and information. It's called critical thinking and it's a priceless gift to give your child. Start early and follow this blueprint.

Step 1: Make sure your child understands what scientists actually do

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Entomologist from Paige & Paxton Weather the Storm doing what scientists do: observing the world.

Before you can teach your child to think like a scientist, let’s take a step back and answer the question: “What do scientists do?”

Scientists try to find answers to questions about how the world works. How do scientists find answers to their questions? They use the scientific method. It’s a series of steps that scientists follow to make sure that they get good answers to their questions. Good answers are answers based on facts rather than feelings or emotions.

Step 2: Teach your child that scientists use a series of steps to do their work

The scientific method works something like this:

  1. Find something that you don’t understand or want to know more about

  2. Do research to find out what is already known about the topic

  3. Guess what the answer might be

  4. Conduct experiments (tests) or perform observations (look at something carefully) to find out if your guess is spot on

  5. Share what you’ve learned or what it means

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Scientist from Paige & Paxton Go Green figuring out what it means (analyzing his results)

When you think about it, all of life's decisions could benefit from this approach: ask a question, do a little research to find out what others know, draw an initial conclusion and then see if that conclusion is correct.

Step 3: Encourage your child to use the scientific method for real-life situations

For example, say your child is trying to decide whether to take swimming or soccer. Rather than guess, encourage your child to think like a scientist. Depending on your child’s age, you can share the steps of the scientific method or just provide the framework.

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From Penelope Finds Her Perfect Fit storybook: Paxton at soccer practice.

We know the question. The framework is to do a little research to find out what others know, draw an initial conclusion and then see if that conclusion is correct.

Research can be as straightforward as interviewing other kids who have taken both classes. Be sure to include kids who hated the classes as well as those who enjoyed them. Your child could also go to a search engine and type in: reasons kids like swimming (and soccer). At this point, your child will have some idea of the best answer and will be ready to see if he or she is correct. Next step: observe a swimming meet and a soccer match, and/or: 2) conduct an experiment: take advantage of free trial classes.

Now is time for your child to share his or her findings. Encourage your child to do some sort of report by drawing pictures or writing down their conclusions. Then ask your child to present his or her research (what did he or she decided to do!).

The beauty of thinking like a scientist is that it can be applied to life’s big decisions as well as decisions of little consequence to improve outcomes:

  • What should I be for Halloween?

  • Which popcorn tastes best?”

  • What should I do for the science fair?

  • What school should I go to?

Using the scientific method this way hones your child's analytical and critical thinking skills while increasing the likelihood of good outcomes. These soft skills are key to success in STEM fields, but will also serve your child well regardless of his or her career path.

Tell us some ways that you nurture your child's scientific thinking.