All by myself

We like to play around here. We like to play a lot. We play with friends, we play with toys, we play with crafts… and we play with science. Lately, K and B have been migrating away from playing with science with me. It’s not that they aren’t doing science, oh no! It’s that they prefer to do it themselves, with just a little bit of guidance and help through the trickier bits. The word of the day around here is one that I used to think was the province of two year olds: I can do it myself!

At two, “I can do it myself!”  was usually spoken in defiance, and often involved self-care like fastening buttons or brushing teeth. Nowadays, I find it spoken with a sense of wonder and surprise, and with an ever-growing sense of one’s own true capabilities. Whether it is baking muffins, pruning bushes, or frying yourself an egg for breakfast, the realization that you are no longer quite a child but are, in fact, a capable, useful, and rather independent kid… it’s priceless.

I’ve always been a big believer in setting kids free to do as much as they can on their own from as soon as they are capable and willing to do it. As toddlers, they learned to dress themselves and how to cut their food with a knife at dinner time. As preschoolers, they learned how to get their own cereal and pour their own milk and help set the table. As they grew, and as their motor skills grew more refined, more and more of their daily lives was given over into their own care. Lest you think I am a crazy woman who gives knives to two year olds — wait, I am a crazy woman who gives knives to two year olds — rest assured that all is done safely, and with child-sized tools. If you want your two year old to learn how to use a knife and fork, you must do it with child-sized utensils, not a heavy adult tool. I draw heavily from the Montessori philosophies in that area.

As my kids have continued to grow, we’ve continued to encourage them to explore and learn for themselves, rather than trusting solely to book learning. (Though we do love books around here). You gain so much by discovering something for yourself rather than merely having someone define it for you. You learn better when the experience is multi-sensorial and just a little bit crazy and intimidating and challenging and fun. And you gain confidence when the adults around you teach you some basic safety rules and then set you free in the kitchen or in the science lab, and you come out the other side alive and well and having had a roaring good time.

The Young Scientist Club kits are perfect for all of this. The kids can (and often do) perform the bulk of the experiments on their own, with just a little help from the grownups. But, up until very recently, there always was help from the grownups at some point or another. We’ve turned a corner, it seems. The grownups are now relegated to being spectators.

Of course, that does free up the hands for taking photographs… and what crazy photographs you get when your kids decide to tackle the kit on pH!

They mixed up a simple acid/base indicator using a kettle full of water and the last of that cabbage from the garden, and then they filled half an egg carton with a variety of substances and went about discovering what, exactly, it means when we say something is an acid.

First by taste…

And then with the indicator…

And finally with the pH strips that were included in the kit. There were several more little experiments in the kit and they enjoyed all of them. They had an absolute blast working with graduated cylinders and pipettes and watching chemical reactions take place right before their eyes. They giggled, they made faces, they talked about what they were seeing (loudly, and with much enthusiasm), and  they focussed their attention on what was happening in a way that rarely happens when you passively watch someone else showing you how it works.

And then they promptly demanded to know when they could do the next kit in the series.

By themselves.

Because grownups, it seems, are fast becoming unneeded around here. At least when it comes to science. And muffins.

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