Friday, June 30, 2006

Science for Kids

Last night I took The Boy to the public library for a presentation for kids about dinosaurs. The guy who did the presentation was a natural showman, and we both had a great time, but it was striking to see such a different presentation style.

To illustrate the earth being bombarded by comets and suchlike during the precambrian era, he had a kid come up front and don a helmet. Then, he pummeled the kid’s head with balloons, each balloon representing a meteorite. Everybody laughed. He brought fossils to pass around, which went over okay, but got the biggest reaction with...the parents out there know where I’m going with this...fossilized dinosaur poop. “Eeeww!” all around, and lots of laughter.

The show was very participatory, with plenty of props. He did a bit with a raccoon puppet (don’t ask) that brought down the house, and he must have called a half-dozen volunteers during the 40 minute gig. (TB raised his hand, but didn’t get chosen. The place was packed, so it didn’t come across as rejection.) He also threw in plenty of jokes for the parents, including a clever one about how they don’t believe in dinosaurs in Kansas, just to keep everybody happy.

The climax of the show involved two HUGE inflatable dinosaurs, brought to life quickly with electric pumps. There’s just something about a ten-foot-tall dinosaur staring you in the face that gets your attention.

As he concluded, he asked the kids how many of them want to be scientists when they grow up, and they responded as if he’d asked how many want dessert.

Yes, it was sensationalistic, and funny, and short, and entertaining, and it didn’t ask much of the kids. But they paid attention, and TB thought it was just about the coolest thing going. This wasn’t exactly his first introduction to dinosaurs; he corrects me when I get dinosaurs’ names wrong (“No, Daddy, that’s a diplodocus, not a brontosaurus,”), and doesn’t have any self-consciousness about it. To him, it’s entirely normal and natural that a five-year-old would be fluent in Latin names of prehistoric reptiles.

I know science will get harder as he gets older, but I don’t want him to lose the sense that it’s cool, and exciting, and liking it doesn’t make you a nerd.

Science-y readers: what piqued and kept your interest in science as a kid?