The word science seems to have been given a new definition in the last few years. It seems to have been altered to mean “what we are told from professionals.” This is unfortunate because science in actuality is something that we all do numerous times every day. I’d like to bring back the meaning of science and the empowerment that we have when we recognize what science is and that everyone (adults and children) should be “scientists.”
Simply put, science is knowledge about, or study of the natural world, based on facts learned through experiments and observation. The method we use in science is: Observe, question, hypothesize, experiment, analyze and conclude. Remember talking about the scientific method as a child? As a society, but also as individuals, we need to get back to understanding the importance of following the scientific method ourselves and teaching our children to be scientists. There is grave danger in simply accepting what someone tells us because they are a “professional.” Let’s show our children that we and they are smart enough to observe, question, and figure out an answer, whether or not that answer is popular.
Let us look at a real life example that I use frequently in motherhood. I am changing my son’s diaper and I observe redness to the groin. I form a question: why is his skin red? I come up with several hypotheses (regardless of how logical or impractical they seem): Did his sister color on him with markers? Has he had diarrhea recently that might have irritated the skin? Does he have toxins inside his body that are being pushed out through the skin? Did he have a chemical irritant on him? I then come up with several experiments to determine if any of my hypotheses are correct. I could wash him to see if it is marker. I can observe him to see if he appears to be in pain. I can determine if he could have been around chemicals. I can apply tallow to see if it helps. I could give him a detox bath. I could feed him liver. I select a few of these experiments, try them out, analyze the results, draw a conclusion and hopefully help my son.
In this example, did I need to run to my computer and start searching frantically for what could be causing his symptoms? Did I immediately need to call his primary care provider or go to the ER? No, I did not – it was well within my scientific abilities to observe, question, hypothesize, experiment, analyze and conclude. Sometimes it is necessary to incorporate other individuals who might have other ideas based on their experience and knowledge. But we can and should be scientists ourselves first. This grows a muscle of empowerment, allows us to provide excellent care for our children, and it shows them that we are trustworthy and capable, not frantic or inept.
How can we help our children be scientists in their everyday life? One thing I am working on with my daughter is teaching her what food does for her mind and body. We can teach our children to assess what their bodies need based on their personal observations. My 4-year old is having a difficult day. She feels sad and misunderstood. She is crying throughout the morning without knowing exactly why. I can teach her to observe these emotions and behaviors and form a question. “Why am I feeling so sad today?” We then hypothesize: am I feeling sick? Did I sleep well last night? Did we have plans that changed at the last minute? Am I feeling confused or unheard? Did my brother hit me? Did I eat breakfast? As we talk through these we can weed some hypotheses out. Our plans did not change, she slept well last night, and her brother did not hit her. She is unsure if she is feeling sick and she ate this morning but it was only a banana. Now we conduct an experiment. Let’s focus on the food first. She can eat something more substantial. After she eats an egg fried in butter we reevaluate. How is she feeling now? She does not feel sick, and she is starting to feel better. She even smiles and decides she wants to play outside. She has no more emotional meltdowns that day. We can talk about it later, analyze the data and conclude that most likely her morning troubles were because of the food that she chose to eat. How empowering is this for a child? To be able to step back from a difficult situation, form a coherent question and figure out the answer to that question. Many people would say that a 4 year old could not do this on her own. I beg to differ. This is a regular occurrence in our household. I do not like mysteries – I prefer to figure them out and to teach my children to do the same, because as human beings, my children and I were created to be scientists: to observe the world around us, ask questions, not settle with status quo in just letting things be the way they are, but to experiment and find answers for ourselves.
In observation of the world around me, I am dissatisfied with the new definition of science. I am observing poor science, lack of questioning and poor conclusions. How would it be if we all asked difficult questions, did the appropriate research to determine the answers to our questions and then lived life based on the conclusions on which we landed after careful experimentation and analysis? Is there something that you have observed that does not make sense to you? How can you apply the scientific method to figure out truth? How can you teach your children to do the same?