Observation is the basis of science, and children are wonderful observers. They often look at things that we adults miss.
I will give you an example.
One autumn day a few years ago, my son Pau and I were walking to the nursery. Pau wanted to look for some snails. The weather was humid, and we found them easily in the grass.
He was very excited to take the snails with his little fingers and bring them to his teacher.
An Interesting Observation
Months later, in summer, we went back the same way. It was hot.
Pau looked at the place where he had found the snails months before, and he noticed that they were no longer there. “Dad, why aren’t there any snails now?”, he asked. “Because it’s hot,” I replied, distracted, absorbed in my thoughts.
“And where are the snails when it’s hot?”, Pau insisted.
I stopped, looked at him, and smiled. I had never asked myself where are the snails when it is hot.
Are they going to a more humid place? Are they going underground? Do they hibernate?
Or maybe they just die?
At that time, Pau was only three years old, and yet he did the first thing any scientist would have done: observation, followed by a question.
In fact, an observation and a question are the first steps of the scientific method.
Bringing Science to Children
The point of the anecdote of Pau and the snails is that, in my opinion, the essence of the scientific method is not so different from the children’s way of being.
Children and scientific thinking feed on the same root: curiosity.
A few years ago it occurred to me that a clown show could be a good way to get kids excited about science. This idea motivated me to create the children’s show Missió Setciències.
The play is an entertaining space adventure interpreted by a sort of “scientific detective.”
His mission consists of finding a couple of aliens hiding on a mysterious planet.
To do so, children must follow the three basic steps of the scientific method: (1) observation and question, (2) formulation of a hypothesis, and (3) experimental verification.
The children’s reaction to the show was fantastic, and they felt fully identified with this curious and observant scientific detective.
And What About Snails?
And back to the beginning: where are the snails in summer?
The answer is fascinating, and I found it in Wikipedia: if the weather is warm and low in humidity, snails look for the shade of the leaves or climb trees and poles.
Then, they enter into a kind of lethargy called estivation: in order not to become dehydrated, they slow down their metabolism and seal the opening of their shell with a membrane, and thus resist until better times arrive.
In this sense, we are all a bit snails.