Take them outside.

I know what you’re thinking – not all science is done outside – but consider that an individual of any age who is interested in science is interested in the world around them. In this case, you’ll want to show them the world around them. There is some incredible science to be learned by searching for insects, following ant trails, making rock observations, walking up a creek through the water, collecting mud, picking up shells on the beach, taking pictures of different kinds of lichens on trees. These are all activities that get a kid outside and teach them that the world around them is not scary, but fascinating. All you have to do is pay attention.

(1) Make observations: Learning to make good observations is one of the most important skills for a scientist, and it’s one that many scientists recall helping to hone their abilities from a young age. Whether your child is looking to make observations from a tree, on a computer screen, in a math equation, or from the bottom of a pool (that was a personal favorite of mine), taking an interest in what is happening on a scale that may be different from their own small bodies can be challenging.
(2) Make connections to the real world:  When you ask a child to lay down on the ground and watch what an insect is doing, there is a golden opportunity to connect with what is happening in nature. It’s okay to get dirty. A few moments of quiet, still observations of tiny insects crawling around in strange ways may just invite “awe” to the party, and this is exactly what you want! We are not the biggest creatures on this giant planet, but we’re also not the smallest. We have a place here, just like the ants do. Give your kids a chance to revel in that realization.
(3) Learn to use science vocabulary and science thinking: This may sound tough, but in reality, learning to use science vocabulary, assigning actual names to things in nature, is right at your fingertips! If you’re outside exploring with your child, download the app iNaturalist, which allows you to take pictures of things in nature and helps you identify them. Show your child that by working together to make observations you can properly identify the green squishy thing on that tree! When it turns out to be a slime mold(!) and you read about how individual cells come together to form this slimy mass all in an effort to find food in nature, you two will have some incredible conversations and I promise your child will want to share that with others.
Seeing science in action and being part of the exploration helps us to better understand how the world around us works and where we fit in. It makes science accessible, fun, and interesting, rather than scary and unapproachable. So the next time you’re looking for a fun and easy, but educational activity, try taking your child outside for a little nature exploration. It may surprise you how quickly new conversations and interests begin to unfold.