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Advice for Parent of Child with Possible Science Interest

  1. Jan 9, 2014 #1
    Hi Everyone,

    I work for a large tech company full of Physicists, Electrical Engineers, etc. (full disclosure - I'm not an engineer).

    I think my son is demonstrating a potential future interest in Physics or Engineering based the types of things he plays with, the way he plays, and where his strengths lie. My father in law is an Electrical Engineer, and my father is a Physician, so perhaps he inherited some interest in science (I hope).

    Anyways, for folks with children, or who can remember their own childhood, how did you foster a love, interest, and ultimate career in Science or Engineering? I would love him to eventually major in a STEM field (and do well), so that he has good career options, but I don't want to interrupt his curiosity or interest too early.

    Appreciate feedback.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 9, 2014 #2


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    Welcome to the PF. :smile:

    If your user name implies that you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, then I highly recommend the Exploratorium in SF:


    Their new location is a bit of a pain to get to, but it's a great place to help spark and keep alive an interest in all things science. How old is your son? (There are things for all ages at the Exploratorium...)
  4. Jan 9, 2014 #3
    I definitely agree. I was in SF about a month back for a geophysics conference and was able to check out the exploratorium. After a long week of listening to often boring talks it was refreshing and made me remember why I had gotten into science in the first place. It's an awesome place.
  5. Jan 9, 2014 #4
    Cal Academy of Sciences is also great.
  6. Jan 9, 2014 #5
    I'm just a sophomore EE student, but I can can tell you a couple stories that I remember as a kid.

    I got a toy train set for Christmas one year. I set it up and watched it go around. After a while I ended up taking the main train apart with one of my dads screwdrivers because I wondered how it work. (Figured out that the batteries powered a motor that moved the wheels.)

    Always played with legos, knex, etc.

    Watch as he gets older and see where his strengths are. Does math come to him easily? Physics?
    For me math and physics are hand-in-hand and come pretty easily, but other sciences just don't make much sense (e.g. biology, chemistry, etc.)

    Eventually in high school I figured I should probably do something STEM related and did some research. I found engineering from Google, but I didn't know which to go to. During high school I learned some programming so I thought maybe computer engineering. Finally made the choice of EE after my first year of college.
  7. Jan 9, 2014 #6
    Thanks for the thoughtful answers. You're right, we live in the Bay Area. Love cal academy and exploratorium (been to both once with him). He's 3 now, so I don't want to imply that he's solving equations, but rather that he's expressing strong interest in taking things apart, and I'm hoping that indicates some future interest.
  8. Jan 9, 2014 #7
    ya when I was young I used to take things apart and build stuff. I started to really get interested in physics when my dad would talk about relativity and how moving clocks tick at different rates, then I started to read about relativity and physics. Maybe when he gets older you can show him stuff like dropping a magnet down a copper pipe and watch it fall slowly, it looks like magic. And also when he is older ask him stuff about Hilberts hotel, like if i had a hotel with an infinite amount of rooms and an infinite amount of guests could I pack the hotel, Show him cantors diagonal argument, that will show different types of infinity. Get him a gyroscope for his birthday.
    When Richard Feynman was a kid and he would ask his dad questions about nature, his dad would give him very thought provoking answers but his dad never forced science on him.
    And also teach him the difference between knowing something and knowing the name of something.
    Teach him how to question.
  9. Jan 10, 2014 #8


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    If he's only three allow him to explore but don't push him. You could kill his natural desire if you overwhelm him. Don't be one of those parents that gets too involved. Don't mistake a 3 year old's natural curiosity for anything else. Expose him to science appropriate for his age/interest, but don't have expectations.
  10. Jan 10, 2014 #9


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    Good advice, Evo. My parents answered my science questions when I asked them (which was often), but didn't push me toward STEM until I was older, like early high school. That's probably about the right timing, IMO.
  11. Jan 10, 2014 #10
    You're thinking too hard Bayarea. More importantly, how about theater? Yeah, that play stuff. Suppose he's takes a liking to that instead. What are you going to do then? You know how that goes right? Parents force their kids to do something they really don't want to do and it just causes problems. I realize though often, when parents create an environment in the home which fosters a particular lifestyle, like science, law, other fields, sometimes the child takes hold and becomes interested. But that's not always the case. Give your child the freedom to find their passion, whatever it may be, then support them (within reason) with the interest they seem to have cultivated.

    I built a lot of models with my son when he was growing up. He's studying to be a architect. My daughter? Well, I just try not to ruffle her feathers.
  12. Jan 10, 2014 #11


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    Every day give him a quadratic equation and tell him he does not get to go to eat until he has calculated both roots (start with easy ones like x2-1=0). Do this until he derives the quadratic solution on his own, give him a week of downtime, then move onto cubic equations
  13. Jan 10, 2014 #12


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  14. Jan 10, 2014 #13
    That is cruel and unusual punishment :D

    When I was little I was curious about how things worked too. When I was 6 I had booby trapped virtually all the house with harmless traps since I didn't wish to actually hurt anyone, just see if my traps worked.
    On that note I was very focused on capturing a dwarf. We put out christmas socks next to the windows and then every night in December before Christmas Day, the little helper of Santa brings sweets. however, I didn't just take my parents' word for it. I had to see one myself. I set a series of mousetraps in the sock hoping to capture him. It didn't work. Then I thought, what if actually these "dwarves" are my parents dropping candy when I'm not looking. I put the sock in complete isolation, only a dwarf could access, there was no candy. That was proof.

    I highly advise you, though. When your kid starts to show interest in fire and matches, treeeead carefully.When I was 5, I set fire in under the sink in the kitchen, in the dustbin. Luckily it was put out, but I knew the power I had then :D It didn't stop there, I moved on to explosives when I was 7. I taught myself how to make gunpowder, taking instructions from a book I found.. oh there were times :D

    I wasn't being pushed to learn anything. I had interest in them myself. I learned English by watching cartoons and matching the English words spoken with the subtitles running below - recognizing patterns in the language structure.

    I broke a TV when my parents weren't home, I was 7 then, so to not get into trouble I had to figure a way to fix it before the doodoo hit the fan and they stepped over the threshhold to scold me. I managed to fix it just in the nick of time using another book to show me how this stuff worked.

    Being punished was something I knew very well, but I was a rather slow learner in that regard.

    As soon as someone told me what to do I was like "no".
  15. Jan 10, 2014 #14
    I think this is good advice. Reading the little anecdotes Feynman left about his father you get the strong impression that his father hit exactly the right balance between piquing Feynman's interest in science and also not forcing it on him in any way shape or form. He created an atmosphere where questioning how things worked was a proper and natural way to proceed through life.
    Completely wrong, of course. The proper method would be to tell him that if you ever catch him calculating quadratic equations or doing any other "squint" nonsense you'll withhold meals. For instance: Michelangelo's father would physically beat him every time little Michelangelo said he wanted to be a artist.

  16. Jan 10, 2014 #15


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    What's funny about that?

    Threatening a kid with no food until they solve a math problem is kind of extreme (and not something my dad ever did), but I was expected to learn how to do simple arithmetic such as addition/subraction, multiplication/division, and powers/roots in my head.

    He used bowling instead of hunger. I started out keeping score for his bowling team, tallying up the scores for each game in my head, etc, and I was expected to be able to calculate my own bowling average for the season in my head on the way home after my weekly bowling league. And, slowly, his calculation tasks expanded to encompass just about everything we encountered when I was with him.

    This wasn't totally unpleasant. You learn the rules for multiplying multiple digit numbers, etc, and get this idea that you should never break the rules (multiply from right to left, with the carries and whatnot). And then you start learning how to do arithmetic in your head and how you should almost always break the rules (multiply the most significant digits first so, if your answer is wrong, you can at least make sure it's not wildly wrong, etc.), plus lots of shortcuts that take advantage of thinking about numbers in a different way than the step by step rote process you learn in school.

    And, of course, in my family, you had to learn how to play '7's (since there are no good shortcuts for '7's except memorization) - a game where players count up in sequence, with each succeeding player giving the number one higher than the person before him, UNLESS the number contains a 7 or is a multiple of 7, in which case the player has to clap, with the next player giving the next number in the sequence (or clap, himself, if the next number also ends in 7 or is a multiple of 7 - such as 27 being followed by 28). Our family played this game constantly on road trips. It got a little obnoxious when we reached the 7000's.

    By high school, I could solve physics problems in my head faster than my classmates could solve them on their slide rules.
  17. Jan 10, 2014 #16


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    You're right, that wasn't funny at all. :frown:
  18. Jan 10, 2014 #17


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    The version I played was similar, except that every time someone clapped the direction of counting changed, clockwise to counterclockwise or vice versa. Had to keep on your toes!

    OP, it's hard to say at 3 what a kid's strengths are.
  19. Jan 11, 2014 #18
    Almost along the line of what Evo said, let it flow naturally. If he likes taking things apart given him things to take apart, if he likes taking specific things apart get more of those. In other words he's already showing you what he likes, just provide it. Provide (as best you can of course) what he likes and that offers the best results! (in the context of pursuing interests)

    Wait he's 3!? :rolleyes:

    Yea do what Office_Shredder, I think it's more along the lines of what you're looking for.
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2014
  20. Jan 11, 2014 #19
    BobG I think Office_Shredder`s comment may have been a slight towards the op's intentions, all to lisab's point about not being able to say what a three year old's strengths are, but the op reads with a bias towards a particular direction of development.
  21. Jan 11, 2014 #20
    I'd at to this 'Stimulate him to try and rebuild the things' but don't push the kid or rebuild them when he can see it.
    If he keeps doing this at say 10 years without rebuilding try to teach him how to or get someone who can. Everybody can take things apart rebuilding them is what's hard (experienced in this department, I became fond of duct tape this way)
  22. Jan 19, 2014 #21
    Also -- make sure he's putting things back together. Perhaps involve him when there are things in the house that need fixing. Taking thing apart is one thing (one of our older sons, 15, did that all the time with no interest whatsoever in the true workings, or keeping the parts intact) and putting them back together as an operating machine is a completely different thing. My daughter (4) actually is interested in this, so it certainly is something that age can investigate. She helps me identify and fix loose screws in the house all the time. I just watch her with the screwdriver to be sure she isn't looking like she'll slip and poke an eye out... and I did teach her to carry it (and scissors) correctly!!!

    Teach him how to measure... volume in the kitchen or bathtub, length with rulers and sticks, weight with a pocket scale (or kitchen scale). My daughter loves this.

    There is also a really fun science series of books that my daughter loves right now: Let's Read and Find Out Science (these have stage 1 and 2 levels). It started with a book on Gravity that she found... but we ordered a lot more, mostly on biology since she got into looking at bone diagrams and asking if different animals had bones. Thee started to be published in the 60's or 70's and continue to be written and updated. There are some cute and easy activities in some of these... like planting seeds and digging them up and different points to look at growth, etc. Some are better than others... I'm not terribly happy with the skeleton one, but they are all pretty fun... and I heard her outline every page of the skeleton one to a family friend tonight, so it's ok... she learning to read...

    And she likes Sid the Science Kid (when I let her watch it on my computer -- although she likes my Little Pony and Strawberry Shortcake more -- it's certainly not all science in the house, and I agree with Evo -- let him guide you a lot, just provide him opportunities!) But it think this is where she picked up the phase "field biologist" (when one of her plastic horses was a "field biologist" telling the other plastic horses how to take care of swans and their eggs).

    Also... encourage collections of things from outside... or drawing things, and building. Sticks from outside, Popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners, playdoh... all good.

    I just wish I could get my kid interested in writing her letters!!! Sorry for the rambling response.
  23. Jan 19, 2014 #22


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    It's never too early to learn to wear safety glasses :biggrin:!
  24. Jan 19, 2014 #23


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    Kids take notice of what the parents do. My father didn't know what a quadratic equation was but had strong mechanical aptitudes and trouble shooting skills. I learned those skills by seeing him use them. In retrospect, I which he would have been able to demonstrate the Maths.

    So yea, put on your safety glasses and solve some quadratics; he/she will notice. Won't be long until the kid is in the Lab applying those Maths.
  25. Jan 20, 2014 #24
    get him one of those old radio shack crystal radio kits, a plasma globe, an ecosphere, some sea monkeys, a magnet kit with iron fillings, an old mr wizard book. at age 5 get him guitar lessons and legos by the ton, gi joes for fun and find someone who'll teach him gw-basic on an old 286 that he has to build himself(the old computer books that show you how to set irq's and stuff are still out there) a copy of dos 5, teach him how to solder his own discrete (not smt!) parts out of old TV's. don't forget the fish thank (think nitrogen cycle).

    what not to do is get him a video game system or cell phone, kids today see these things and they don't even question how they work it's like magic or something.

    as long as you can get him to take apart old electronics your good, you can get him to start reading schematics by buying those 100 in 1 kits, and you can find the forrest mims intro to electronics book on amazon.
  26. Jan 20, 2014 #25
    He's only 3, lmao. I wouldn't do a thing.
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