Our elder son Isaac is fast approaching his fourth birthday but from an early age he has always been an inquisitive boy at heart, curious about the world and wanting to know how things work – particularly if it relates to gadgets. For instance, he learned how to unlock and operate my iPod just a couple of weeks after learning to walk. He has been taking pictures with a camera since early this summer. And he regularly gives his Grandpa computer lessons as he shows him round his latest discoveries on the CBeebies website. Which is why I have taken him to Intech (now the Winchester Science Centre), a hands-on interactive science and technology centre a couple of times over the past few months. I suspected our little engineer would enjoy it. In fact, he loved it.
I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, he does have two scientists for parents: one (Heather) who earned a doctorate, the other (me, obviously) who barely scraped through his degree but has compensated with an expensive gadget habit. For a child who has developed similar interests, Intech has been a fantastic resource for Zac to visit – like having your own science fair just down the road. Although he is too young to really appreciate the science behind many of the exhibits, he quickly embraced their hands-on nature. From the moment we set foot inside, it was like watching a kid in a candy shop – or, at the very least, a geek at a tech fair. On our first visit, he immediately set about building electric circuits before haring around, operating a crane, scanning items in a mock-up shop to learn about recycling and doing all manner of other stuff. Yes, at his age it is more about ‘play’ than it is actual learning, but I found it fascinating to observe the way he intuitively grasped concepts and even take some of it in. So, for instance, on his first visit we experimented with different types of battery and a voltmeter, and he immediately latched on to the idea that some types of battery are more powerful than others, and why his ‘bigger’ toys require more and bigger batteries to operate. When we returned for our second visit three months later, we went back to the same exhibit and – completely unprompted and without needing to be reminded – he started lecturing me about the difference between bigger and smaller batteries. That second visit was even better because they were holding an event where lots of volunteers from local schools and universities put on additional exhibits to entertain and educate. These ranged from programming a robot to building and launching a bottle rocket, a task Zac set upon with an enthusiasm normally only reserved for my iPad or the latest Katy Perry single. At the time, I carefully explained to him that pumping air into the rocket creates a build-up of pressure which is eventually enough to launch it skywards. I didn’t think anything of it until the following weekend when I asked him to explain photos from the day to his grandparents, and he launched into a near word-perfect description of the principles behind basic rocketry.
The learning capacity of any inquisitive young child never ceases to fill me with wonder. Make that doubly so when it’s one of your own children. With every visit, he may only take one or two big things on board – that in itself is amazing enough to me – but it’s clear that the fun he has only supports rather than hinders his learning. He may never become a scientist – given his performing tendencies, I still suspect his ultimate path may include a failed X Factor audition – but he will certainly enjoy himself at places like this for as long as he shows an interest in them. If he’s having fun while also learning, you can’t really ask for much more than that. Publicly, I hope he doesn’t end up like Beaker from The Muppet Show. Secretly, I don’t mind if he does. There are worse things he could grow up to be than a science geek. Intech is located just off the M3 and A34 near Winchester. Find out more at their website here.