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Science for children: shaping the future by expanding young minds

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The recent Covid-19 pandemic and climate change are complex topics of high relevance to everyone. Big and small. Everyone wants to understand the world around them and children are not different. Science is a way of looking at the world that can help children –and adults alike– navigate the realities of a rapidly changing and demanding world.

Rita Campos, researcher at the Centre for Social Studies at the University of Coimbra (CES-UC), with long experience in science communication for young audiences: “Science and scientific knowledge have an impact on almost every dimension of our lives: health, education, justice, construction, transport, agriculture… Science can be a lens into the past, present, and future as well as into other worldviews, knowledge, and experiences.”Read the interview of Rita Campos

However, science is not readily available or understandable for most adults, let alone for children. That is why there is a need for more digestible and appealing formats for young audiences. Despite their natural curiosity, they are not the best audience for a dissertation; they are usually more driven to hands-on experimentation or formats involving active participation like games or open dialogues, for instance.

Rita Campos: “The language and activities need to be adapted to their age and maturity. For younger children, I always use materials that they can manipulate, creating a story (storytelling) based on an arts-based or creativity-oriented activity. In fact, I would recommend this approach for any age, adapting it according to the particular situation/audience.”

One way to actively participate and see inside the workings of the scientific process is to be part of the validation process of published research. That is precisely what children are asked to do in Frontiers for Young Minds, a science journal for kids, edited by kids. The young audience acts as peer reviewers, to ensure that every article published in the journal is not only accessible but also engaging for their age group of 8-15 years.

The journal has published well over 1000 original articles to date and achieved 26M+ views and downloads from 230 countries worldwide, indicating both the global interest in science in these audiences –and adult ones– and the success of the model.

Laura Henderson, Head of the Program for Public Outreach Frontiers for Young Minds: “With the help of Science Mentors who coach them on the science in the article to review, these Young Reviewers –be it a class of students, a homework group, or a club including nephews and nieces of the Science Mentors– get to give honest and open feedback to top scientific authors. Authors respond to children’s feedback with detailed comments and explanations and make all requested edits to the paper. Nothing is published until they are satisfied. This way, our Young Reviewers are setting the terms on which they and their peers are told about science while learning the importance of validating information”Read the interview of Laura Henderson

Nevertheless, when communicating science to children, not only the format is important, but also the way to deliver it, that is, the language.

Laura Henderson: “You cannot assume any basic knowledge when communicating concepts to kids; our authors frequently need to revise papers during peer review to better explain the reasons to justify the research they are conducting. In addition, the language you need to use to make it engaging is different to what you would use with adults.”

Despite not always being well prepared to communicate with young audiences, researchers are more than willing to learn how to reach them to expand the readership and application of their research.

Laura Henderson: “Authors learn a lot from the young peer review process – they tell us that ours is not only the most fun peer review process ever but also the toughest! This process teaches scientists how to communicate outside the research community. If the man in the street – if the kid in the street – can’t understand the value and impact of your research, how can you change the world?”

In general, scientists, public research institutions, and non-profit foundations are the key drivers of interventions aimed towards educating future generations to become scientifically literate, critical thinking adults who can change the world.

Related content
A scientist’s opinion: interview with Rita Campos on science communication and children
A scientist’s opinion: interview with Laura Henderson on science communication and children

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