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What It Means About Your Child’s Brain If She Colors on Your Walls

We all want our kids to grow up with an interest in science, but how do we encourage that? Well, according to dad of two (oh, and astrophysicist) Neil deGrasse Tyson, it starts by not freaking out when they color on your walls. It’s just another way they get to test cause and effect, Tyson explained on a recent episode of Mom Brain, the hit parenting podcast hosted by Daphne Oz and Hilaria Baldwin. 

Here, more detail on this parenting approach, and more simple experiments you can conduct with your children.

Hilaria Baldwin: So, how can we get our kids interested in science? 

Neil deGrasse Tyson: Children are born curious. But unless you have 12 maids running around after them, you are probably not keeping a neat household. You have children and they create entropy or great disorder wherever they are. What is the disorder? It comes from an experiment they did. For example: What is this glass on the table? Let me take it and play with it and—oops! It fell. Another example: What is this tree on this plant? Can I pull this leaf off? Oh! It broke. 

Baldwin: We were experiencing that with painting on furniture yesterday. 

Tyson: The eternal question: Does paint stick to this surface? 

Daphne Oz: Yes! They’re thinking: “It colors nicely on here. How about on my wall?”

deGrasse Tyson: When I was a kid, we had these pipes coming through the room, which was the source of heat. I remember discovering that a crayon on those pipes just went on so smooth. I was like, “Wow, the crayon wants to be here. It just wants to use more and more of itself.” But my parents let us get away with it. It was an experiment. So, your job is not: How do you stimulate interest in science? It’s: How do you make sure that interest doesn’t go away. How do you do that? Embrace the mess.

I was in Central Park in New York City and it had rained a little earlier that day and I saw a woman walking down one of the walkways with her kid, who couldn’t have been more than six years old. He had on a raincoat and boots and there’s a big puddle right there. And I’m saying to myself, “That kid wants to jump in the puddle,” which was kind of muddy. So, I said in my head: “Please let this kid jump in the puddle, you know he wants to jump in the puddle. Let him jump! Let him jump!” And what did she do? She pulled him around the side of the puddle. So, the kid lost out on this total experiment. What happens if I jump two feet into a puddle? This is an experiment in how you make craters. How do you think craters on the moon happen? Not by kids jumping in puddles, but something hits and it splashes and it makes a crater rim. But she did not want to clean dirty boots. That should not be your mindset when you’re raising children. 

Oz: Because then they’re going to have wet, soggy feet until they get home.

deGrasse Tyson: Correct. But there’s no better experiment than the one you conduct yourself. Yes, you’ll want to circumvent things that might hurt them or kill them. You have to keep them alive. Beyond that, let them run. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. For more from Neil deGrasse Tyson, listen to his recent appearance on our podcast, Mom Brain, with Hilaria Baldwin and Daphne Oz and subscribe now.

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