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.
There are two examples of slow science in the photo above. 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 3 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 on the glass and 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.
Slow science isn’t just about observation, and it’s not about holding a kid back from rigorous exploration either. The photo above 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 certainly 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/skill. Forced, arbitrary schedules have an opposite effect. 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.
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 identity around being a scientist, each one of my kids continues to pursue science deeply and with great focus. 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. And as my kids like to say, magic is just science we don’t understand yet.
Note: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.