Discover the joy of slow science
If Science is a subject that's leaving you a little bewildered or overwhelmed, or you have children who 'don't like science', this homeschooling mum's refreshing take on slow science will have you hooked.
By Samantha Matalone Cook | samanthamatalonecook.com
The thing about science is that you have to let kids learn to love it through experience and experiment before you can ask them to be a scientist. To really understand it.
Think about Leonardo DaVinci, watching and sketching his birds over and over again, contemplating flight. Sometimes science is about observation, patience, and beauty. Sometimes science is about time and intimacy. Slow science.
What slow science looks like: buds and biospheres
There are two examples of slow science in the photo below. The hyacinth bulb on the right is seasonal. We set it in a glass vase in early January and have watched its roots slowly tumble down into the water and green leaves shoot upwards.
We waited in anticipation as tiny purple buds formed and then finally opened to grace us with glorious fragrance. Now the flowers are wilting, and another shoot has appeared. Will we get one more show? We hope and watch. And when the bulb has done all it can, we will tuck it away to be planted or brought out again to see if we can coax another bloom next year. So much in such little time.
On the left is a biosphere. A biosphere is a contained, self-sustaining little ecosystem. This particular one is about three years old, and is seasonal in another way. We watch as the plant life blooms and then dies back. We watch as the shrimp grow, have babies, and die. We watch as the tiny snails clean the sides of the glass. The pond muck full of microscopic creatures we added to the bottom gently pillows and billows around the shells that serve as shelter and a calcium source.
There have been times where everything in the jar has died back to the point where we thought our biosphere was a goner, and then we have been delighted by its amazing and awesome comeback. I have lost count of the times I have found one or more of my kids simply staring into the jar and studying this little world.
Why slow science appeals to kids
Slow science isn’t just about observation, and it’s not about holding a child back from rigorous exploration either. The photo below is from a MEL Science Kit, which one of my boys is really into at the moment. Almost every time a kid says they want to learn about Chemistry, they are not asking to study the Periodic Table (which is cool but not where I would start).
Usually, they are looking for reactions, excitement, a visual and kinesthetic experience. While these experiments may seem more interactive and complex in some ways, they still fit the slow science model.
My son is the kind of kid who, when allowed to set his own pace, will dive deep and take his time to really understand a subject, topic or skill. Forced, arbitrary schedules have an opposite effect.
The guideposts of slow science discovery for us
1. We take our time
We work through the experiments, savoring each one. We watch the videos on the app, look at three-dimensional models of molecules, and let each success and failure lead us down a merry path into the beauty and curiosity of chemical reactions. This eventually did spark an interest for my son in the periodic table, and he decided to learn more by creating his own card deck of all the elements.
2. We let science lead into natural wonder
In every one of these cases, science is allowed to speak for itself. I may point out my observations, and my kids may share their questions or thoughts, but the wonder that develops is authentic and personal.
Because they were given the space and experiences to fall in love with science and create an identity around being a scientist, each one of my kids continues to pursue science deeply and with great focus.
3. We look for the magic
Right now, we are all (or just some) fascinated with Chemistry, Physics, Volcanology, and Entomology. Whether it was one of these examples or our regular visits to science museums or into nature, each one of my kids have found the magic for themselves.
As my kids like to say, 'magic is just science we don't understand yet.'
4. We see opportunities for slow science in many environments
In more structured environments, slow science is still possible. Filling the environment with rich, touchable scenes is a great way to start. Because one has less time to let curiosity unfold in a classroom or formal curriculum led environment, I would also set out examples of the next unit well ahead of time so the kids can develop a relationship with the subject and begin to form their observations and questions. This doesn’t take away from the unit they are on, and in fact can prompt the kids to make connections between subjects that result in a very natural and rich segue.
This post was originally featured on samanthamatalonecook.com and has been republished here with permission.
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Samantha Matalone Cook
Samantha is a homeschooling mum of three with over two decades of experience in education, program development, and the arts. She has a BA in Humanities, emphasizing Medieval Culture and Archaeology, and an MAt from the George Washington Graduate School of Education and Human Development, specializing in Museum Education. Samantha is an active member, speaker, and advocate of STEM in the hacker/maker and home/unschooling communities. Her website is: samanthamatalonecook.com