So much science education happens in informal ways--outside of the classroom. These experiences can be so valuable and sometimes even more influential than the classic approaches taken for so long by the public school system of the American culture.

Successful informal educational opportunities can start right at home between parents and their children at the earliest ages. From simple questions to make a child think about what is happening around us to getting directly involved with exciting citizen science projects in our community, there are so many opportunities that can be presented to a young mind that can leave a lasting impression.

A growing focus on the importance of informal education is emerging, and citizen scientists can be on the forefront of this valuable movement. The National Academies Press has published materials on the issue, and is helping to create new studies and information on how informal educational approaches might be more thoroughly developed.

In their latest newsletter (subscribe), NAC featured an interesting survey of readers who had experiences as a child of a lasting memory of an informal educational experience. The following are some of their favorite responses...

"'My dad waking us all up at 2 a.m. on a freezing winter night to come out and see the Northern Lights; I was 4 years old and never forgot.'

'Studying pond water samples with a friend's microscope, drawing my observations, then going to the library to find the names of the microbes (amoeba, diatoms, etc.) during the summer between 3rd and 4th grade.'

'Making an electromagnet out of a piece of wire, a nail, and a battery.'

'The original Mr. Wizard television program set my future path toward science. Each episode presented scientific concepts through interesting and understandable demonstrations that, for the most part, the young viewer was encouraged to try at home. This was really exciting TV!'

'The first time I learned to mix baking soda and vinegar to make carbon dioxide and the resulting foam overflowed on to my parent's kitchen table.'

'A lifetime of interest came from my father's simple question: 'Why is it so hard to push this boat into the water?' 40 years later, I am still pursuing wave flows and resistance.'

'Sitting on the front porch with my father and siblings counting the seconds between the lightning flash and the thunder that followed. We estimated how far away the lightning strike was and learned math as well as science.'"

Each of these special memories should be an inspiration for parents and how we can contribute to positive informal science education every day. If you and your children have experienced meaningful informal science education moments--no matter how small--please tell us about it by posting a comment here on

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