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How to Use Sports to Enhance Your Child's Understanding of Science

Sep 6, 2008
Kids are all reeling from the excitement of the Olympic Games these last few weeks, but can they relate any of that to science? Absolutely!
Aspiring athletes, or students struggling with a scientific concept, may find that the perfect demonstration is sports. Many kids love sports, and sports are science. Every skill, movement, victory, and loss kids experience is a science lesson waiting to be learned.

Everything from the exchange of O2 and CO2 as Michael Phelps breathes between swimming strokes, to the flight path of each ball, arrow, and body, can be explained to kids by science. Seeing science in action in a sporting event can go a long way to turning the words and diagrams in your kids' science book into real understanding. The trick is helping them make that connection.

Try to stick to the basics. Kids aren't usually going to carry their science book with them, but targeting general concepts can spark enough curiosity to get them to look it up later. Kids can easily relate biology to sports because they can see the science happening. Physiology, the function of the systems of the body and how they work together, can be easily demonstrated to kids with sports.

The nervous system tells Michael Phelps' musculoskeletal system to contract and extend in the swim stroke he needs. His muscles are given oxygen and energy through chemical reactions of the digestive, circulatory, and respiratory systems. Show your kids science by having them flex a muscle. The nervous system doesn't need them to talk to ask that muscle to move, and some muscles, like the heart, don't even need a conscious thought to work.

Physics is also a fairly easy science for kids to see. Newton's Laws of Motion can be observed in baseball. The first law is inertia - an object's motion will not change until a force acts upon it. When Justin Verlander pitches a baseball, gravity, wind, and ultimately the hitter's bat or the catcher's mitt all force the ball to change speed and direction. He can keep a fast ball high in the air by giving it a lot of backspin, or pitch a curve low and left by giving the ball a side spin. The way the ball spins in the air changes how the air puts force on the ball. Ask your kid to identify the science behind the pitch. What forces acted on the ball? How did they affect the ball's flight?

Chemistry is often a difficult concept for younger students, but you can still introduce your kids to chemical science. Try not to be discouraged by the complexity of the chemical reactions themselves.
Explain that Usain Bolt was breathing hard after his 200 meter sprint because of chemical reactions in his body. All the muscles in his body burn energy and use oxygen when he runs. The oxygen is brought to his muscles from the air around us by several chemical reactions. When you breathe in, the oxygen is taken from the air in your lungs and passed into your blood by a chemical reaction. The blood moves the oxygen to your muscles, where it is used in another chemical reaction.

Ask your kid if they can talk about the science behind food getting to muscles as energy. Usain's body uses chemical reactions in digestion and in the blood to bring nutrients from food to his muscles, and his muscles use chemical reactions to store and use them to make energy. Kids will still grasp the basic concepts of chemical science without complex equations. Kids will also be better prepared to learn the specifics of science in school if they have been relating the concepts to the world around them.

You can use sports to help your kids learn and love science. Science can be applied to so many aspects and moments in every sport, it shouldn't be hard for you to identify connections of your own. Take a look in your child's science book this year, and next time you're watching sports, bring up a few concepts. Before you know it, you kid will be talking about how Peyton Manning could improve his throw by considering Newton's 3rd law more closely!
About the Author
Sara Jones was a fine student but science was a source of frustration she didn't want her kids to suffer. She met Rick and Amanda Birmingham and realized their grasp of everyday science was the secret to making science fun. To learn more about the solution to science stress visit www.SuperFunScience.com
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