By Elisa Freeling
I recently took my children, ages 8 and 11, to a taster session of Richer Education’s Science Saturdays. Given that my son is science-mad (inspired, however improbably, by the Captain Underpants series), while my daughter is more “science is fine, I guess”, I was curious to see how they would take two straight hours of it, and on a weekend, no less. The topic that day was electricity; would their imaginations be sparked?
Upon arrival at Imperial College (which thrilled my son—“Look at all the REAL lab equipment!”), the kids were sorted into groups by age, with three groups of about six children each. My two were in the oldest group. The day’s session would include learning about what electricity is, how it builds up or moves and what a circuit is.
After an initial overview of electricity, including defining conductor, electrons, current and so on, the kids got started on the fun bit: the first experiment. They were tasked with building circuits to switch on a lightbulb. As they worked in teams, the facilitator prodded them gently to troubleshoot when the bulb failed to light. They experimented with adding more batteries, bulbs and a buzzer and observed the result. As they discussed what they had built, they were encouraged to use accurate scientific vocabulary to describe what they were doing.
Wandering round the lab, I was amazed when eavesdropping on the table of five-year-olds; their ability to use the scientific vocabulary that had been introduced was impressive. They even had lit up their bulbs and sounded their buzzers (a favourite activity, judging by the repeated buzzes!).
According to my daughter, the best bit was the final experiment: using Play Doh in place of electric wires. The children loved rolling the dough into thick, squishy ‘wires’. The assignment was to create a closed circuit to light up little fairy-light-style LED bulbs. She and her partner managed to light up five bulbs in all, and discovered that the bulb closest to the battery was the brightest.
When it was time to go, neither of my kids could believe two whole hours had gone by. My son loved every minute of the session, which he said was “amazing”. My daughter, meanwhile, was surprised by how “fun and interesting” it had been. She may not have switched her favourite subject from English to science, but it was definitely a positive experience.