Looking closely for science

eurekabookYou probably don’t think about science when you’re poring over a Where’s Waldo? book, but in the upcoming book Eureka: Discovering Your Inner Scientist, Chad Orzel spends a whole chapter connecting seek-and-find books like Where’s Waldo? to science.  He talks about patterns and whatnot, but for kids, it’s about looking closely and observing details, which is just the beginning of thinking like a scientist.  Even if it doesn’t seem like it.

mrtweedsgooddeedsI was thinking about that as my daughter and I pored over a different seek-and-find book recently.  I chose Mr. Tweed’s Good Deeds for the good deeds part of the story, but in the end it was the opportunity for looking closely that was the real strength of the book.  The spreads are full of details, and they were just challenging enough for my six-year-old to keep her attention without being too easy.  Once she got to the higher numbers, we found it was hard to remember which of the objects we’d already found, so we laid the book flat to use coins to mark our finds.  We recommend it for those looking to spend some time with something quirky, practice their observation skills, and get closer to their inner scientist. ;)

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Read more about Mr Tweed’s Good Deeds on Brain Pickings or read more about how observation relates to science in this post.


Disclosure: I received a review copy of Mr. Tweed’s Good Deeds from the publisher.



Friday Find: Brains On!

brainson“Wait! Pause it!”

We were listening to an episode of Brains On!, and my six year old could barely hold in her comments and questions.  I let her choose among the recent episodes, and she chose Is There Life on Other Planets? which opened with an excerpt from a science fiction story about aliens written by a kid, not too much older than my daughter.

“So this is a real story written by a real kid?” was her first question.  Then we had to go to the Brains On! web site to see the young author’s alien drawings.

Astrocat_001That was only the beginning  of the speculation and discussion that the episode sparked in her.  It wasn’t just the day we listened to it, either.  The ideas stuck with her enough to bring it up again and again.  We explored more about space in Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space, which has a great spread with speculative aliens that my daughter loved.

We will definitely be listening to more of Brains On! And catching up on past episodes.  I love that it features kids asking real kid questions, and I am excited to explore more science with my daughter.

Since I am always thinking about books, I already have a few books in mind for some of the other episodes:

  • For Water, Water Everywhere we will check out Did a Dinosaur Drink this Water by Robert Wells and Let’s Drink Some Water by Ruth Walton.
  • The Soil–Can You Dig It episode fits well with A Handful of Dirt by Raymond Bial.
  • In How Do You Catch a Cold? there is talk of sneezes; Explore more in Sneeze! by Alexandra Siy.
  • If you listen to Is There Life on Other Planets? with kids a bit older than my six year old, you can direct them to The Alien Hunter’s Handbook by Mark Brake for more about what life is and how to find it.

Happy listening, reading, and exploring!

Interested in past Friday Finds posts? Click here

Vicki Cobb wins lifetime achievement award

Have I mentioned lately how much I love Vicki Cobb?  Well, her books, anyway. She is pretty much the queen of science writing for kids, and her royal status has been confirmed with her recent lifetime achievement award for excellence in children’s books from the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Subaru Science Books & Film.  They call her the “Julia Child of hands-on science.”

My Vicki Cobb picks?  The Science Play series.  I mentioned one of the titles in Kite Day (Picture Book Preschool), but the whole series is spot-on for 3 to 5 year-olds to explore science.  I can’t recommend them highly enough.  Children’s literature professor, Betty Carter says this in an essay about preschool science books in A Family of Readers (love this book, btw!):

“Look carefully at a four-volume series named Science Play written by Vicki Cobb. Both together and individually, these books get right at the process of discovery by asking youngsters to participate in a number of experiments in order to understand scientific principles.”

Start with Science Play.  Move on to one of Vicki Cobb’s 80-odd other science books for kids.  As Carter says, “Cobb knows her science, and she knows children and their abilities.”


Disclosure: Amazon.com links are affiliate links.  A portion of purchases made via these links earns a commission for this blog.  Thanks for your support!

For more about science for kids, see my Secular Thursday page.

How to be 3rd Grade

I love Radiolab.  I was thrilled to hear that one of the co-creators of Radiolab, Jad Abumrad, was recently named a MacArthur Fellow for his “distinctive new aesthetic” to science journalism.  This morning he spoke with Kerri Miller on Minnesota Public Radio about his work with Radiolab and his connection to science.  I was particularly intrigued with something he said the way to encourage a stronger interest in science is to engage people (especially kids!) in the process, in the failures, in the disappointments that come before the end result.  Too often our perception of science becomes about results.

I think there are some great children’s books about science that illustrate the process behind science.  I mentioned the “Scientists in the Field” series in my recent post about choosing science books, and I must bring it up again as an example of a window into science that shows more than just the results.

Since most of what I know about science either comes from Radiolab or children’s books, I found the podcast in which Jad and co-host Robert Krulwich talk about their effort to “Be 3rd grade” pretty amusing.  Apparently third grade is the last time people remember enjoying science.

Let’s all follow Radiolab’s example and be 3rd grade.

See more posts about science, religion, and secular family life on my Secular Thursday page.

Exploring Evolution

While the status of evolution in public schools remains a pretty fierce debate, we do have plenty of great children’s books on the subject.  Here are a few of my favorites:

My personal favorite is Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors by Joyce Sidman.  This beautiful blend of poetry, science, and art is not just for kids.  I encourage anyone interested in science or nature to browse this book for its unique perspective.  The timeline on the end pages is of particular interest as it attempts to show evolutionarily just how briefly humans (life, really) have been on earth.

Our Family Tree: An Evolution Story by Lisa Westberg Peters seems like a good followup to On the Day You Were Born since the structure is pretty similar.  Each spread is dominated by a large painting with poetic text explaining scientific  ideas.  Each illustration is further explained in the end notes, and a time line incorporates the illustrations to tie it all together.  This book may require adult guidance since it does simplify the ideas quite a bit, but it is a good choice for exploring our connection with the natural world.

Steve Jenkins has written and illustrated many award winning picture books about animals, and his book about evolution, Life on Earth: The Story of Evolution, is one of his best efforts.   Jenkins is strong supporter of science education.  He writes on his web site about the wonder of science,

“My own belief is that the more we understand about what the universe is and how it works, the greater our appreciation of the beauty and wonder of the world, of each other, and of being here to think about it all.”

His unique illustration style mixed with his appreciation for science creates books that are really quite outstanding.  The time line compares geologic time to a 24 hour day, which may be helpful to put it into perspective for kids.

Robert Winston’s Evolution Revolution is a good choice for slightly older kids than the above.  While the layout makes the book easy to browse and eye-catching, the book is dense with information about history, genetics, Darwin, and more.  There are suggested activities throughout, and an animal guessing game creates a fun, interactive tone to the book.   This a a great choice for sharing the excitement of science.

Evolving Planet is not as densely packed with information as Evolution Revolution, but the thickness of this book may be intimidating to some kids.  Dinosaur lovers are bound to love it though because it spends more time on dinosaurs than any of the other books mentioned in this post.  The book is a companion to the exhibit of the same name at the Field Museum in Chicago, which presents the four billion year history of life on Earth.

These are just a few of the books that I recommend to families looking to explain evolution to young kids.  It can be hard to talk about with kids because it’s complicated and it isn’t kind or pretty.  But they may be more ready than you think.

More book recommendations about religion and science on the For Secular Families page.