Help your little learner to undersand what scientists do.

How to Explain Different Kinds of Scientists to Children

by Erica Loop

Biologists, paleontologists, geologists, physicists, chemists, entomologists, botanists--what do all of these words have in common? If you said that they are all scientists, then you might have an easier time teaching your little one about the different members of this studious profession than you think. Preschoolers are starting to learn about the grown-up world of work and are often interested in what different people do. While your little learner might not make a career out of science (or maybe he will), explaining different kinds of scientists to your child is an awesomely entertaining activity.

1 Explain to your child that there are different types of science, using concrete examples. Preschoolers are able to learn basic concepts about the physical sciences (such as chemistry and states of matter), life sciences (animals and habitats) and Earth and space sciences (the seasons or where the moon is).

2 Talk about how each type of science goes with a specific type of scientist. Preschoolers enjoy matching and matching games. Create a homemade matching game where you cut out pictures or photos from child-friendly magazines of different types of scientists working in their own fields. Glue the pictures to index cards. Flash the cards at your child. Ask her to name the scientist and what area of expertise he works in.

3 Choose non-fiction picture books that show illustrations or real-life photos of different scientists. Read the books interactively with your child such as "Starry Messenger: A Book Depicting the Life of a Famous Scientist, Mathematician, Astronomer, Philosopher, Physicist Galileo Galilei" by Peter Sis or "S is for Scientists: A Discovery Alphabet" by Larry Verstraete. Ask her questions such as, "What type of scientist do you think he is? What do you see in the picture that makes you say that?" or "What is that woman doing that makes you think that she's a scientist?".

4 Play scientist dress-up with your preschooler, using your child's budding imagination and dramatic flare to its fullest advantage. Provide different scientist-themed dress-up clothes such as a lab coat, goggles or a field vest with lots of pockets along with props such as a magnifying glass or a clip board. Encourage your child to dress up and act out a scene that features her as a scientist. Talk to your child about what she is doing and make sure she understands that different scientists study different things. For example, if she puts on the lab coat and plays with plastic beakers and measuring cups, ask her if she is a chemist or a marine biologist.

5 Visit a real-life scientist. Take a trip to a local science museum, the zoo or a nature center. If you're lucky, you can find a scientist at work or a meet-and-greet for kids. Many local science spaces have special exhibits such as a paleontologist dusting off fossils in view of the public or a zookeeper discussion about taking care of wild animals.

Items you will need

  • Child-friendly magazines
  • Scissors
  • Index cards
  • Glue stick
  • Science-themed dress-up clothes
  • Science props

Tips

  • Keep the questions flowing. Encourage your little learner to ask as many questions as she can about different scientists. If she doesn't know where to begin, try a few discussion starters such as, "Did you ever wonder who digs up dinosaur bones?".
  • Enlist help from a friend. If you know someone who works in a science field or at a university, ask her over to talk with your preschooler.

Warning

  • Avoid dumbing down your conversations. It's tempting to over-simplify science terms for a preschooler's growing mind. Instead of making the conversation babyish, use the real vocabulary. For example, don't trade the word paleontologist for dino doctor.

About the Author

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.

Photo Credits

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