What to Tell Kids About the 'March for Science'

Whether it's clean water gushing from a faucet, a weather forecast or a new smartphone game, kids see the accomplishments of science all around them, and tomorrow's "March for Science" provides an opportunity for parents and other adults to talk to kids about the importance of science, experts say.

Parents can tell their kids that the march is being held to show that "science is for everyone – it's really that simple," said David Evans, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, which is one of the more than 300 organizations working in partnership to organize the event. The march will start from the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on Saturday (April 22), and satellite marches will be held in more than 500 other cities worldwide.

If a child asks why people are marching for science, an adult can explain that organizations that support science are concerned about the public's understanding of science, Evans told Live Science. "There are many important issues facing society right now where science comes to bear on people's decisions," he said. [Best Supporting Role: 8 Celebs Who Promote Science]

A key idea to explain to kids is that science unfolds in many steps, he said. Adults can explain to kids that this means starting with an observation about the world, then asking questions about that observation and testing one's understanding of it to see if it holds up, he said.

"Everyone needs to understand that science is a process so they can participate" in society's decisions, he said.

Emily Graslie, the "chief curiosity correspondent" for The Field Museum in Chicago, said even young children can learn that science is a way of learning about the world.

"The march is an opportunity for scientists and science enthusiasts to show up and our make presence known as citizen of our communities," said Graslie, who will be giving the keynote address at the march in Chicago on Saturday. Scientists have not always done a good job of communicating about their work, and the public may mistakenly think that scientists work in isolation, in labs, she said. The march will change that.

The march will also show kids that scientists are a diverse group, Graslie said. "Kids might think of a scientist as a kooky guy with crazy hair, but science is a diverse field, a collaborative field, and there are people from all walks of life who contribute."

Some in the public might feel that they are distant from the world of science, but science just means expressing curiosity or an interest in a question, she said. For anyone who's just looking to develop a better understanding of science, participating in a march is a good first step, she said.

Mike Carapezza, a biomedical engineer who works as a research associate at Columbia University in New York City and as a partner with a children's science education program called Hypothekids, said  adults can explain to kids that the march is happening because "people who understand the value of science are trying to make the statement that we can't ignore scientific facts." [25 Scientific Tips for Raising Happy Kids]

Taking kids to the march is a good idea because it would let kids see how many people think science is important, Carapezza said. Kids can benefit from "seeing how many people really trust and value science, and trust in the 'good faith' of science – that scientists are trying to find answers, not push an ideology," he said.

Adults can explain to kids that science is "a systematic way of understanding the world," he said. "It's a method of asking questions and answering them as well as you can," but still acknowledging that those answers may not be completely correct, he told Live Science.

"The uncertainty is built in," he said. And anyone who feels that they don't know a lot about science can rest assured that they will feel at home at the march. "Admitting that you don't know something -- that's actually exactly what scientists do," he said. Scientists look for questions that they don't have answers to, and try to learn.

With kids, "it's never too early to foster an interest in science," Graslie said. "In times like these, it's important to keep dialogues open and encourage that curiosity."

Originally published on Live Science.

Karen Rowan
Health Editor
Karen came to LiveScience in 2010, after writing for Discover and Popular Mechanics magazines, and working as a correspondent for the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. She holds an M.S. degree in science and medical journalism from Boston University, as well as an M.S. in cellular biology from Northeastern Illinois University. Prior to becoming a journalist, Karen taught science at Adlai E. Stevenson High School, in Lincolnshire, Ill. for eight years.