- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 18, 2007

Science education is oftentimes one of those spine-shivering topics that cause otherwise confident parents to feel helpless and unable to teach children at home.

Mention the words “biology” or “chemistry” and you’ll see many adults flinch. “I could never teach that. I barely got through it myself, and I don’t remember a thing,” they tell me.

The sheer size of many science textbooks is a bit daunting — four or five hundred pages of dense text and diagrams can be intimidating, and one can be forgiven for shrinking from plowing through such a weighty tome.

In reality, however, science is no monster, and anyone with a reasonable amount of curiosity and logic can understand the workings of a living organism or the dynamics of atomic behavior.

What may help your family break the science barrier is to seek out more exciting presentations of scientific material. In our home, we have been fortunate to be the recipients of back issues of Scientific American, a popular science magazine that my father has subscribed to for years, and which he passes along to my son every few months.

This magazine, which I can remember paging through during my own childhood, presents scientific issues in attractive ways. One big plus is the excellent photos, graphics and other illustrative materials used in each article. The editors put a lot of effort into bringing the topic to life with exciting visual elements that greatly augment the written text.

Another plus is the magazine’s editorial approach. It seeks out the latest and most exciting breakthroughs in a wide number of fields, from human behavior to brain chemistry to astrophysics to germs. A given issue might cover the latest discoveries in human fossil remains, a new system for measuring activities on a distant planet or galaxy, or how microscopic technology is making changes in health care.

Computer and electronic themes are reported on, often years before the consumer applications bring some into public awareness. Since most families I know experience the “Kids know more than the parents” syndrome regarding technology, the likelihood is that our children require more, not less, information regarding the upcoming technological advances, in comparison to us.

I enjoy reading the magazines, and then discussing the articles with my son, who usually beats me to them. I have a preference for the biology bits — he for the technology stuff — but there’s plenty to keep us both happy. If we happen upon something that gets us really interested, we may do an Internet search on that topic or go to the library for more comprehensive books about it.

The nice thing about so-called “popular” science publications is that they appeal to a wide range of interests and use a readable writing style, rather than the dense “lab report” text of many scientific journals. Also, there is an emphasis on practical application for the research, so the reader can see how a certain study might affect daily life.

If you find the $35 yearly subscription daunting, consider going to your local library and borrowing the magazines, or reading them there. Or, as we do, let people know that you home-school and ask them to pass them to you when finished.

For an online version of the magazine, with a more interactive but less graphically exciting format, you can go its Web site (www.sciam.com). Subscription information is also available, with occasional promotions and discounts.

I think you’ll find that exposing your children to science through a colorful, dynamic and readable medium that relates to areas they are already interested in will bear dividends in terms of their sense of confidence and ability to absorb core principles.

• Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer living in Maryland.

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