I spent this afternoon with an old friend in her classroom of kindergarten kids running a science session. It was a lot more fun and a lot less daunting than I had anticipated.
It turns out that young children are a lot like academics – very keen to make a 10 minute comment disguised as a question and then be congratulated for their nugget of wisdom.
I ran a session focused on weather and clouds. We learned about reading a weather map, made our own and then dressed the classroom teacher up in a schizophrenic outfit according to the weather symbols we were adding to our map of Australia. Then we discussed how a cloud forms, made a cloud in a bottle and drew a diagram of our experiment.
It was a blast! The kids told me all about where they were born, the time their grandma’s house flooded, and invited me back to play after school.
They were charming and snotty and smart and silly all at the same time. They’d wow me by saying that clouds form from evaporating water and then insist that turtles can walk over clouds, which are actually made out of cotton. At the end, they all decided they wanted to become scientists.
I’ve done a fair chunk of outreach and science communication, ranging from speaking on panels, talking with high school students, writing op-eds and meeting with politicians. But talking to young children about science is uniquely joyful and exhausting!
Kids won’t give up until you’ve explained something properly and then heard their take on it. They are also not afraid to put up their hands just to tell you they’ve forgotten what they wanted to say but that it was pretty great anyway.
Children are also natural scientists – they love learning and they love the world. Spending time with littlies is a great reminder of the spark that ignited a lifelong love of science. Now I just need a few days off to recover from the charming snot and I’ll be ready to get back to academic science.