One of the educational goals I have for my kids is to love to learn. I want them to be curious about the world around them and then have the confidence to seek answers on their own. I want them to learn how to use the library, research books, and websites. I want them to be able to gain knowledge from observations and test their own hypotheses. No matter where the answers may lie, I want to give them the skills to go find them and not just be spoon fed information.
Why Science Experiments?
My kids have always loved science experiments. We often do them just for fun. It doesn’t matter if we are studying that area of science or not. If we find an interesting experiment or we are curious about something, we start gathering supplies.
I decided to use my children’s interest in experiments as a tool to teach them to be independent learners. My goal was for them to not only learn about a science concept, but to figure things out on their own without me suggesting ideas or helping them. I wanted them to do the problem solving and build their confidence.
Science experiments require gathering supplies, reading and understanding directions, following directions, and interpreting the results of the experiment. If students can follow the experimental setup, protocol, analysis, and clean-up on their own, they are on their way to independent learning.
When choosing experiments for kids to attempt on their own, I look for safe, interesting experiments that I feel are within the ability of my children. Where do I find these experiments?
I start with quality science experiment books. First, I look for experiment books with content that interests the student that is going to be carrying out the experiments. If the student is not motivated, this exercise may be a waste of time.
Next, the experiments need to be safe enough for the students to carry out on their own with limited supervision. My kids can ask me questions, advice, and hands-on help, but I really want them to at least try and figure out how to do the experiment on their own without any fear of harm to themselves or the house.
The experiment books need to be written on a level students can understand. The whole idea of using experiments to develop independent learners hinges on the student being able to understand the information they are being presented. If they do not understand, they cannot do the experiment on their own.
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Finally, the experiments should be able to be completed using supplies found around the house. We do keep an experiment box with common science supplies on hand just in case.
Dover Tabletop Scientist Books
Dover Publications sent me a copy of their Tabletop Scientist books to review a couple months ago. They quickly became our new favorite science experiment books. These are the types of experiment books that can teach your children science and how to be independent learners.
Each book in the Tabletop Scientist set has a theme: water, air, sound, and light. Within the books, each 2 page layout has an experiment and a lesson about what the experiment is testing. These experiments fit my criteria so well that I gave these books to my 10 year old and told him that he needed to do an experiment a day using the Tabletop Scientist books.
That worked out pretty well.
My son loved this water cycle experiment from the Tabletop Scientist Water book using a water bottle, ice, coat hangers, a cardboard box, and a cup of hot water.
This experiment was a great way to see the effects of temperature on water density.
The Tabletop Scientist Air book has great aircraft engineering experiments that were the inspiration for a whole engineering series – 5 Days Of Engineering Challenges.