Maria Kennedy was driving her 5-year-old son to pre-school when he asked a question that stunned her. "Mommy, why is the sun following us?" Kennedy, who says she was stuck in rush-hour traffic and running late for work wasn’t sure how to respond.
"Looking back, it was an excellent opportunity for a simple astronomy lesson," said Kennedy. "At the time, I wasn’t sure how to break it down for him and didn’t have time to figure it out."
Math and science education experts say there are countless opportunities to enhance a child’s math and science learning. Resources abound to aid parents in their quest to boost their child’s education.
"It is absolutely important that parents encourage math and science learning outside of the classroom," said Padmanabhan Seshaiyer, Ph.D., professor, Mathematical Sciences; director, STEM Accelerator Program; director, Center for Mathematics Professional Outreach and Educational Technology in the College of Science at George Mason University. "I believe strongly that children have different learning styles. We have to look for ways to engage our children in math and science and get them to be curious."
Seshaiyer said that parents should be deliberate in their efforts to engage their children in science and math. "For example, while going for a walk in the park, you can observe something interesting about a tree," he said. "While walking down the steps, children can count the number of steps or count the odd or even numbered steps."
Usha Rajdev ED.D., professor of Math and Science at Marymount University said that opportunities to learn about math and science are virtually everywhere. "If they are in the parking lot, you can ask, ‘How many red cars do you see?’ ‘How many sets of tires do you see? There are four tires on each car. How many sets of tires are there if you see three cars?’ These types of activities are so overlooked."
The Washington metropolitan area offers opportunities for "family field trips" that are goldmines of math and science lessons. "For all age groups I believe that what they do outside the classroom is just as important as what they do inside the classroom," said Peggy Weldon, math and science teacher at Connelly School of the Holy Child in Potomac, Md. "The Octagon Museum downtown is a great one for architecture and math lessons. Any of the Smithsonians are great."
"Children experience the wonder of science and math every day," said Donna Ryan, a Kindergarten Teacher at St. Stephen's & St. Agnes School in Alexandria. "They just may need a spark from adults to ignite their perpetual curiosity. Two websites that can add to that spark are: bedtimemath.org and wonderopolis.org. They are daily imaginative and fascinating windows into the world around us."
Michael Moynihan, Head of Upper School, at The Heights School in Potomac, Md. said that there are many resources available to help with math and science education. "Parents can set up accounts on Khan Academy ["a not-for-profit with the goal of changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education for anyone anywhere"] to monitor their child's progress through particular areas of math," he said. "Even encouraging good habits of critical reading of texts through taking notes on reading can be effective. Parents with limited time should convey expectations and goals in terms of effective learning strategies more than provide direct help." Visit www.khanacademy.org.
Consider creative projects that include adding, subtracting or multiplying.
"Rube Goldberg machines are a good way to get kids motivated about science and math," said Seshaiyer. "Puzzles are also good." Visit www.rubegoldberg.com.
In fact, said experts, some of the best lessons are through tangible experiences. "I am a big proponent of learning by doing," Seshaiyer said. "For example, how many halves are in four? Take a Hershey chocolate bar and ask them how many half pieces are in the bar. They will cut it and quickly see that it is eight. It gives them something concrete to do and lets them justify their answer."
In April, Seshaiyer encourages parents to take their children to The USA Science & Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C., "It is the largest science festival in the country," he said. Visit www.usasciencefestival.org.