Put scientific tools on Santa’s list

When kids have better access to science tools at home—equipment like rulers, measuring cups, and kitchen scales—and time to tinker with them, it can boost their interest and confidence in science.

This is according to a new study published in Research in science education.

Researchers from the Florida Museum of Natural History surveyed 45 children from low-income families and their parents about children’s access to a list of 20 common science tools at home.

The list of tools included everything from construction toys (like Legos and blocks), maps and compasses, telescopes and microscopes, rulers and measuring cups, magnifying glasses and science kits.

The results show a significant correlation between a child’s perceived access to science tools and Science Achievement Value scores (a measure of interest and confidence in science).

“Out-of-school tinkering with materials plays an important role in developing self-confidence for learning science and building a scientific identity,” says Gail Jones, co-author of the study and professor of science education at the North Carolina State University.

Children ages 8 to 11 (and their parents) were recruited for the study by three US museums through partnerships with community organizations and schools. There was a roughly equal representation of girls and boys.

All participants were asked about children’s access to tools at home, time spent on tool-based activities like reading a map or using a ruler, and level of children’s interest and confidence in science.

The results revealed a wide gap between the tools parents knew they had around the house and those their children had encountered.

Parents said that children had better access to tools (13 on the list of 20 tools, on average), than the children themselves perceived (11 on 20 tools, on average).

Most children reported having access to a camera (95%), measuring cup (89%), calculator (87%), timer (84%), ruler (84%) or GPS ( 84%) at home.

While more than half did not have access to a map, compass, tape measure, kitchen scale, science kit, health monitor, Lincoln Logs (a type of construction toy), telescope or a microscope.

There was no significant gender difference in the level of access to tools.

Read more: Where do the children play? Starting early is key to closing the gender gap in STEM

The document encourages parents to make science tools at home easily accessible for children to explore and experiment with.

The tools are considered fundamental to science learning – to make observations, analyze data, share results – and their use is a key element in science curricula in many countries, including Australia.

For example, the Australian Curriculum Science Standards for Years 1-2 state that students should be able to “use informal measurements to collect and record observations…using units familiar to students from home and school, such as cups (kitchen)”.

The study notes that early experiences using tools at home can help children feel capable and better prepared to learn science in a school setting.

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