“What are the best books for my daughter?” “What kinds of extra curricular programs should my son be enrolled in?”
You send so many emails asking, “How do I encourage my child to pursue science?” It’s a noble endeavor, and of course, there’s no end to possible responses. Much depends on what each individual is interested in from marine science to space. While I welcome these inquiries, here’s the best suggestion I can offer: Rather than science specifically, focus on critical thinking!
No matter how advanced a student’s math skills or laboratory technique, it will be her ability to work through problems and develop creative solutions that sets her apart from peers. In other words, parents should do more than going through the motions for standardized test preparation, and begin early. Foster her natural curiosity about the world. Perhaps most importantly, she needs to believe in herself and recognize what she is capable of.
Sure, it sounds a bit cliche, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. More than ever before, our culture poses formidable social obstacles to success. Joe’s is right that “It’s okay to be Smart,” but “smart” doesn’t always seem adequate. Kids are bombarded with billboards, music videos, television shows, advertisements, and films telling them that they also have to look and act a certain way to be accepted. A cultural firestorm of unrealistic expectations damages self-esteem and, in turn, academic performance. Of course there’s no simple way to counter these harmful false messages, but building confidence is the place to begin.
So that’s what I hope moms and dads will continue to emphasize. And if you’re still seeking a good book to start with, my vote for elementary schoolers goes to Free To Be You And Me. (DVD and audio are even better!). For young adults, books like Tracy Kidder’s outstanding Mountains Beyond Mountains about Dr. Paul Farmer will help them recognize how one individual can have a tremendous positive impact on the world.