parenting

Education: Dinosaur Train Makes Science Fun for Kids

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Education—When my oldest was three years old, we did home preschool. I really got into his education, researching and hunting down just the right age-appropriate books, manipulatives, and music to teach him his letters, numbers, and colors. I asked teachers and retailers alike what was the best way to teach him science, and I usually got either blank stares or the standard reply: "Just let him explore." While I recognized some wisdom in that response, I sought better advice, something about how to guide—not control—his explorations. I couldn't find anything. So I let him explore everything from our backyard to our nearby dinosaur museum, and his scientific curiosity developed.

He's now eight, and it seems there's no shortage of resources in terms of specific experiments (his favorite kits are the Scientific Explorer kits, books (his favorite is his Usborne Big Book of Science Things to Make and Do), places (his favorite is the Thanksgiving Point Museum of Ancient Life), and TV shows (his favorite is PBS Kids' Dinosaur Train). He's done one of these almost every day this summer, except for the days I said he had to do either math or spelling or reading, because even scientists have to know how to do those things too.  So when I got the opportunity to do a sneak preview of Dinosaur Train's Big City adventure, premiering on Monday, he was super excited. So was my two-year-old. Both of them insisted on watching it straight out of the box, and sat entranced the whole time.

So it got me thinking: I can see why Dinosaur Train is interesting to young boys on the surface, just because it combines ancient tough beasts and trains, two things they instinctively love. But what specific strategies does Dinosaur Train employ that makes it both enjoyable and educational? What strategies can I take away and model in my own educational exploits with my kids? Here's what I found:

First, ParentingScience.com offered these tips for teaching kids about paleontology:

  • Teach concepts, not statistics.
  • Compare extinct animals to living ones.
  • Offer age-appropriate explanations.
  • Present good illustrations for kids.
  • Let kids see the evidence for themselves (e.g. fossils)
  • Inspire critical thinking by presenting "clues" and asking questions.

These are good tips, one which many "over-the-counter" kids' science books and products do not always follow, I think. Even better, though, are these tips provided by PBS Parents, which state, first of all, that "explorations, even simple ones, do not help children understand complex ideas." Thank you!

  • Listen carefully to your child. Engage her in conversation about what she thinks, and encourage her to explain why she thinks as she does by asking questions such as, “Why do you think the snail is eating that leaf?”
  • If your child says something scientifically incorrect, help her discover for herself what is correct rather than correcting her.
  • Model curiosity. Wonder aloud: “I wonder what will happen to this pudding mix when we put the water in?”
  • Keep in mind that children develop at different rates as you do science activities with your child.

As I watched Dinosaur Train Big City with my two boys, I could see these tips and strategies modeled, and was thankful for the great resource that they offer to me to help me foster my sons' love of science.

Disclosure: PBSKids provided me, through their PR company 360publicrelations, with a movie premiere kit, which included a copy of the Dinosaur Train Big City premiere, movie popcorn, a red "carpet," and some swag. The unabashed adoration of all things PBS expressed in this post is my own, sincere opinion.

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