PUBLISHED: 4:52 PM on Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Parents: Conduct your own science-book experiment
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Why do dogs sleep so much? Why doesn't it snow in Florida? Why can't I eat dirt? By about age 4, boundless curiosity and verbal skills transform children into wonderment on two legs. Queries begin at breakfast: Do you know how to milk a cow? The barrage ends at bedtime: Where does the sun go at night? Parents can offer simple explanations or refer to an encyclopedia, consult with relatives or do a lot of Googling to find an answer and encourage children to do the same. (Hey, look Dad, I'm reading.)

When the student in your house comes home with rules and deadlines for science projects, recall the endless stream of why, why, whys that peppered conversation throughout preschool. If your child seems overwhelmed by the many steps involved in a such an assignment, remind him about the time he asked if the moon really was made of cheese. Remembering what genuine curiosity feels like helps calm any apprehension kids have about doing a long-term homework assignment that involves words such as "hypothesis" "evaluation" and "data." Ask the child to forget the teacher's syllabus for a moment and jot down a list of questions. What kind of frogs live in our yard? What happens if you try to bake a cake without eggs? What makes an airplane stay in the sky? Spending time on a science project is more exciting if the child is truly curious about the subject. For more guidance, check out today's recommendations, which present potential topics, guidelines for executing experiments and tips for creating summaries, reports and displays.

What Is Science?

"Great Science Project Ideas from Real Kids" by Janice VanCleave (John Wiley & Sons, $14.95; ages 8 to 12). This primer explains how to develop a hypothesis, collect information, keep a research log, execute experiments, write summaries and create displays. The step-by-step, straight- forward advice defines terms such as "control group" or "independent variable" and serves as a procedural manual. It also offers encouragement: You may think that you don't have much experience with science topics, but remember this doesn't have to be rocket science! For example, you know that water in a puddle quickly disappears on a warm day because the heat causes the water to change from a liquid to a gas...this can lead you to a project about sublimation (the change from a solid to a gas or vice versa)."

The book presents specific instructions for 40 projects. Appendix A is a list of 100 ideas - jackpot! - divided by category (agriculture, biology and engineering). Appendix B provides dozens of reference books (Organic Gardening, Stars and Planets, and The Anatomy Coloring Book). The glossary covers everything from absorbency to zoology and everything in between - microbe, systolic pressure and xylem.

"Can You Feel the Force?" by Richard Hammond (DK, $15.99; ages 10 and older). Still having trouble choosing a topic? Flip through this jargon-free book that highlights the wackier side of physics. Puzzle, brainteasers and activities create the perfect setup for a eureka moment, as in "yes, that's what I want to do." Sample section titles presented in question form pique interest. What is the best shape for a car? Why do balloons stick to the wall? Why do golf balls have dimples?

How Nearly Everything Was Invented

"How Nearly Everything Was Invented" by The Brainwaves (DK, $19.99; ages 10 and older). Instead of starting with a question, study some answers. As students read about the origins of generators, steam engines and telescopes, their minds will shift into inquisitive science mode, "Gee, I didn't know that" becomes "Well, if that's the way it works, what if ..." Bingo. Another possible topic.

If your children are a bit young to do experiments, introduce them to concepts with a basic picture book such as "What is Science" by Rebecca Kai Dotlich (Henry Holt & Company, $16.95; ages 4 to 6).

What is science? So many things. The study of stars and Saturn's rings...The study of soil, of oil and gas. Of sea and sky, of seed and grass...The power of trains, of planes that soar. Science is this and so much more. So into the earth and into the sky, we question the how, the where, when, and why. We question, we wonder, we hunt and explore, the secrets of caves, the dark ocean floor. The oldest of rivers, the tombs of kings. What IS science? So many things.

The text is straightforward, buts its rollicking rhythm and vivid illustrations make an interesting buzz. What more could you ask for in a book?