Developing science capital at home


By Douglas Napolitano-Cremin, Head of Science and STEM Coordinator at Prince’s Gardens Preparatory School

We are living in what is referred to by many as the ‘fourth industrial revolution’. Technology is developing at a previously unimaginable rate and is having an impact on every aspect of our lives.  Careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) related areas are projected to grow twice as fast as other careers over the coming years. Various reports have shown that those who study STEM related subjects have far greater career options later in life and STEM graduates are regularly acknowledged as having some of the highest starting salaries. Despite this, there is growing concern about the UK’s ability to supply a workforce that has the necessary skills to ensure that it can become a world leader in this field.

Research has found that the earlier we start to develop a person’s ‘science capital’, the greater the likelihood that they will develop the skills that will be essential for success in the future and also will be able to fully engage with science and the other components of STEM. The concept of ‘science capital’ has been described by researchers at the Institute of Education (IoE), UCL, as a ‘bag’ containing every interaction someone has with science during their lives. A person’s ‘science capital’ does not just encompass the scientific knowledge they have, but also a person’s attitudes towards science, experiences within the area and who they know that are linked to science or STEM fields.

The researchers at the Institute of Education found that a low-cost but high impact way to increase a young person’s ‘science capital’ is to personalise, and localise, the science a young person is interacting with. Good science teachers will be doing lots of this within the school curriculum, but how can we as parents also emulate this at home?

There is a wealth of resources for parents who wish to provide engaging STEM experiences at home for their children to engage in. Notable institutions such as the Science Museum, Natural History Museum and the Royal Institution, to name but a few, all have areas on their websites dedicated to activities that can be done in the home. Your local bookstore will also stock many titles dedicated to homemade science. A favourite in our family is the wonderfully illustrated book by Physics teacher Alom Shaha titled, ‘Mr Shaha’s Recipes for Wonder: adventures in science around the kitchen table’.

The greatest resource to use at home, however, is your child’s own curiosity. We are born to ask questions, and as a result we are all born to be outstanding scientists. One of the thrills of science is the pursuit of answers to questions that spring out of everyday experiences and observations. As described previously, drawing your child’s attention to their local environment can be an incredibly powerful way to increase their ‘science capital’. Ask them about the changing seasons. What do they notice about the trees they see on our way to school every day? How do these trees change as each half-term progresses? Why do they think those changes are happening? How do they think those changes are happening? Find ways to connect their personal interests to science and STEM. My son is obsessed with trains and the underground. We use train timings to practice his maths skills and we have tried to think of ways that we could design tube trains so that they can go faster. The localising and personalising of science can help our children to realise that they have many of the skills that are needed to ‘do’ science and that it is not something that is reserved for what many might perceive as the intellectual elite of society.

The opportunities to introduce our children to the wonders of science are limitless. It is important to remember that no matter what we may judge our own ‘science capital’ to be, by modelling fascination with the world around us, and a willingness to ask questions, we can be some of the best science teachers our children could wish for.

Prince’s Gardens Preparatory School, a new independent school in Kensington for boys and girls aged 3-11 is opening in September 2020. You can read more article by Prince’s Gardens Preparatory School here.