I have a child who constantly wants me to teach him. "Tell me more about x,y, and z!" he begs. Only problem is, Mama might know a lot about ancient history, archaeology, and geography, but Mama's knowledge of the hard sciences is pretty darn patchy.
So what to do? Going back to college is not an option. Google is a possibility, but it does not quite foster the sofa-centric model of intellectual growth that I prefer. So I am very grateful to publishers of quality non-fiction for the young, like Lerner. A series I especially like is their "Science Concepts," which covers a variety of hard science topics-- such things as "matter," "photosynthesis," and "symbiosis." They are at about my level (grades 5-9), in that I can comprehend them as I go, and translate them to an 8-year-old's understanding (I hope).
Most recently we enjoyed reading DNA, by Alvin Silverstien, Virginia Silvestein, and Laura Silverstein Nunn (revised edition, 2009). We rushed quickly through the rather tricky second chapter, "What is DNA?"--it was a bit hard for us to understand. But we thoroughly enjoyed more anecdotal topics such "How Heredity Works," "When the Code Goes Wrong," and "The Genome Project." As well as the smoothly written body of the text, we appreciated interesting sidebars about such things as the first cat ever cloned (did you now that cloning dogs is harder than cloning cats?), sickle-cell anemia, the fact that chimps are closer to humans than to gorillas. These sorts of things are candy for my boy's mind, and their presentation in this book, meant for older, independent readers, is of the unpatronizing variety that makes him feel that his interest is respected.
So, the upshot of this post--go to the library and bring books home that are too hard for your kid. Read them with her or him, be honest about the parts you don't understand, and delight together when you learn new and fascinating things! (This sounds so good on paper that I feel I should do more of it. But, alas, all too often I am busily modeling independent reading behavior).
And your five year old, drawing idly on the living room floor, might surprise you with his drawing of genetic transfer at the molecular level during the mating process (mostly circles and lines, but still...) We are going to be saving that piece of paper forever.
And thanks, Lerner, for the review copy of DNA, which led us to seek out other titles in the series.