Wide-Eyed Wonder

By Leigh Bortins

“We perish from want of wonder, not from want of wonders.”—G. K. Chesterton

Have you ever watched your children squeal in delight when they turn over a large rock and discover that a whole colony of insects has been living right beneath it? This is what scientific study is all about—wondering about God’s creation and recording what you learn. As we grow older, many of us forget to wonder. We forget to stare at the stars above us at night, to wonder what they are made of and what governs their motions. We forget to see the wildlife all around us, to ask for the names of all of the birds in the backyard. I am grateful that we live on a lake that is home to many different species of frogs. Every night, their musical croaking in varied voices is a symphony in tribute to the astonishing diversity of Creation.

How can we train our children to continue to explore the world with wide-eyed wonder at the works of His hands? First, we know that a little bit of knowledge is usually fodder for more curiosity. If small children memorize the types of volcanoes—active, intermittent, dormant, extinct—then they will be more likely to want to read books about volcanoes. In addition, their ears will perk up when they hear of stories of ancient volcanoes, such as Pompeii, or of volcanoes in current news stories.

So far, I have already mentioned two important activities for small children in the study of science. (  )  The first is that they should spend time outdoors observing creation. After seeing a particular type of bird in the yard, children can look it up in a field guide and then read a good book about birds. Secondly, they should memorize some basic facts about science so that they will be attentive to science topics. I have my children memorize facts in these broad categories: biology, astronomy, physics, geology, anatomy, and chemistry. When they are older, students can build on their basic knowledge through deeper reading and through experimentation.

I also like to expose my children to the scientific method when they are small, as practice for more sophisticated labs in the upper grades. I particularly like the simple experiments in Janice Van Cleave’s 201 Awesome, Magical, Bizarre, and Incredible Experiments. The necessary ingredients are easy to find, and the steps are simple for small children to follow.

When you complete an experiment with your children, use a simplified version of the scientific method and have them answer questions about what you just did: “What did we do?” (procedure) “What did we use?” (materials) “What did we see?” (results) “What did we learn?” (conclusion) Older children can summarize an experiment in writing using the following categories:

Purpose

  • Hypothesis (What do we think will happen?)
  • Materials
  • Procedure
  • Conclusion

Remember that the primary focus of elementary school science is to practice keen observation of the world.

Before students get into a formal science scope and sequence using textbooks, I like to have them do a lot of research on their own. You can assign your students broad topics such as fish, amphibians, volcanoes, rock, etc. Have them use a couple of sources to write a few paragraphs summarizing what they learned. I like to have mine transcribe their paper into a sketch notebook and include a drawing at the top. Drawings are particularly useful tools for recording science facts about human or animal anatomy. Have students draw a cross-section of skin or the human eye and record the facts below the drawing.

You can also have them practice creating a bibliography. Since they will have used a couple of outside sources, they can create a simple bibliography with two entries. It is good to have a couple of good science resources on hand, such as a science encyclopedia and science picture books written for children.

Middle school is a good time to study biographies of famous scientists. Too often, modern science texts leave out mention of the people who made significant discoveries in that discipline, which leaves a large hole in our children’s knowledge. They should become acquainted with the men and women who asked important questions and struggled to find the answers. The Christian Encounters series includes very readable and inspiring biographies of Isaac Newton, Galileo, and George Washington Carver.

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