Are you “science smarter” than your kids?

An interactive report from Sarah:

This week,  BBC News released findings from a poll indicating that 80% of British parents have been stumped by a science question posed by their children and 20% of those parents admitted to feeling silly when they were not able to produce an answer. Also, more than half of the 1,002 parents surveyed felt their children knew more about science than they did!

So, what’s the big deal if some adults just don’t know science?  Among other reasons, understanding some basic science principles allows citizens to participate in democracy more fully.  I could cite many political issues that are worth the effort it takes to research and understand the basic scientific principles involved in each of them. (“Effort” is very loosely defined here to include something as simple as watching these 76ers cheerleader videos and reading Professor Trefil’s related short blog posts on 18 big science ideas “every adult needs to know to be a science literate”.)  I’ve preached about this here on but, until now–as a newlywed–never considered the possibility that knowing random scientific facts about the world around us will come in handy when David and I decide to have children. Because of our professions (we’re both researchers) we will be prepared to answer our child’s questions, such as: Why’s the sky blue? What makes a rainbow?  These were two of the top three most challenging questions in the BBC News poll.

I find this study both surprising and alarming because there are little resources to combat this problem.  Children will eventually get their questions answered by their teachers in school…but how will the parents brush up?  Short of going back to school, there are very few resources available for parents to learn more about the every day scientific wonders that surround us all…until now.

This survey of UK parents with children aged five to 16 marked the launch of a website by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. The website, called Science: So what? So everything, gives information to parents on answering those tricky questions from children, as well as downloadable activity sheets and ideas of places to visit (in the UK only, sorry). The website’s goals are not unlike ours here at and it’s an excellent resource to learn, among other things, answers to the questions that stumped THOSE parents (not you, of course):
How are babies formed? The website explains that “babies are created when a cell from the mother and a cell from the father join together or fuse. After the two cells fuse, the site goes on, they divide over and over again to create a ball of cells called an embryo that goes on to become a baby that grows inside the mother for nine months.
How are rainbows are created? “A rainbow is made from light and water – with help from the sun.”
And, why is the sky blue? “Because the sun produces white light which is made up of all the colors of the rainbow. But a clear, cloudless day-time sky is blue because molecules in the air scatter blue light from the sun more easily than they do red light.”

I polled my (very small) group of friends that have young children, and found that of the non-scientists, 2/3 of them felt like their child will have more knowledge than them about the environment and basic scientific principles once they enroll in school. When I asked my friend Rachel if this fact bothered her, she winked and said, “They always warn you parenting is a learning experience. I guess I’ll brush up on my science too while I’m at it.”

So how about it, readers? Do your kids seem to know more than you about why the sky is blue and other everyday science questions? Have you ever been stumped by a science question your kid has asked? If so, tell your story here in the comments section, below (click on “comment”). Be sure to respond with any question that continues to stump you. I’ll write a follow-up piece answering any of the questions that come up.