Kitchen science experiments urged
Parents should encourage children to cut up organs bought at the butchers and conduct chemistry experiments in the kitchen to spark their interest in science, according to a headmistress.
Experimenting with food dyes, growing cress, dissection and soaking eggs in vinegar are all science-related activities families can do together at home, Jo Heywood, headmistress of Heathfield School, a private girls' school in Ascot, Berkshire, suggested.
Speaking as children across the country prepare for the first week of the new academic year, Ms Heywood said that parents can help to foster a child's interest in science by exposing them to it from an early age.
Children have inquiring minds and should be able to find things out and ask questions, she said.
"Parents shouldn't be frightened of science, there's so much out there that they can do."
Ms Heywood suggested that mums and dads can start by using the right words for parts of the body - such as the oesophagus - to children as young as three or four.
"When they ask 'why is the sky blue?', say 'let's go and find out together'. Don't be frightened to admit you don't know all the answers. It can be fun to find them out together."
The headmistress urged parents to go to the library, search online or ask teachers for ideas for experiments they can conduct at home, including dissection.
A local butchers or supermarket should have a heart they can buy to use, she said.
"If they are old enough, given a child a pair of scissors and let them cut it up and name the parts. Use big words like 'ventricle'."
Families could also conduct experiments with pureed red cabbage and water, adding different ingredients such as salt to see what colour the solution turns to.
"You can use different highly coloured beetroot and petals and extract the colour to see what results you get."
If youngsters have conducted these types of experiments at home, when they come to study pH indicators in chemistry at school it will not be frightening, or a difficult idea, Ms Heywood said.
"They could make their own lava lamps, or put eggs in vinegar and leave them for three days and then see how high they can bounce them," she added.
"There is stuff you can do in your kitchen that shouldn't frighten parents and be great fun."
Children who do not want to conduct an experiment should not be forced, Ms Heywood said, but she added that a number of youngsters, if asked whether they want to cut up a heart will say no, but then be very interested in it.
Ms Heywood's comments come amid a continuing drive by the government and industry to encourage young people to study and science and maths-based subjects.
A new national curriculum is also being introduced to schools in England this term and ministers have said that the new science curriculum will focus on scientific knowledge with more practical work and a greater emphasis on maths.