If you are a parent, like me, you often marvel at the world your children are growing up in. Will they ever even know the agony of extracting a chewed up cassette tape from the stereo, as they agonizingly and painstakingly fix it with the aid of a pencil and some patience? While these life lessons may not be necessary ones to pass on to our children, I think we would all agree that some level of science education is extremely beneficial. However, we frequently forget that communicating the history of science is as important as our modern day understanding.
If you’ve ever visited our friends at the Bounce Energy Blog, you might have read some (if not all) of the Better Know Your Electricity History Series. That seven-part series recounts the amazing amount of progress we have made in the United States over the last century – in terms of the electricity industry – after all in 1920, only 35% of homes here had electricity. In the spirit of those engaging lessons, I hope to cover a few fun ways to teach the history of electricity to your kids using the most symbolic of electrical objects – the light bulb.
The Centennial Bulb
In fact, this history lesson can be taught by just one single light bulb – the longest burning light bulb in history. Currently in its 114th year of illumination. the Centennial Bulb celebrated its one-millionth hour of burning on June 27th 2015. The Centennial Bulb was first plugged in at a firehouse in Livermore, CA, in 1901, and it has kept a 24-hour watchful light over the fire trucks below ever since. Today, you can join it and actually watch the bulb and the firehouse below live using the Bulbcam. It serves as a fantastic way to teach the history of electricity as it has shined brightly through most of it.
The Firehouse Light by Janet Nolan is a great book I want to recommend for kids aged Kindergarten through 3rd grade. It chronicles the life of the Centennial Bulb and shows how the community around it changes over its lifetime to the present day. This book is an excellent start to a conversation with younger children about how electricity has shaped our world over the last 100 years. The illustrations in the book are wonderful, and, as you read, you can ask your children to point out things on each page that would require electricity to run (apart from the light bulb) and observe how our world becomes more and more dependent on it with each new page.
Look for Teachable Moments
From this, I would then encourage you to start a continuous conversation with your children about how electricity shapes their lives. When you get the milk out for their cereal, ask why them why it is important that you put it back in the refrigerator? What would happen if you didn’t? What did the book say that people used to use to keep their food cool and what do they think of that idea? (For those that cannot bear the suspense, it was ice, delivered by horse-drawn carriage.)
For older children, you can also bring in more complicated concepts, such as why rural areas might have had electricity later than the city and how electricity could have improved their health and well-being. Would they want to drink the bad milk? What could happen if they did?
The last installment in that excellent series at the Bounce Energy Blog discusses the modern-day drive towards a higher level of energy efficiency. To me, this is one of the most important lessons we can teach our children. We must learn to use energy more responsibly and efficiently to meet our ever-growing need and dependence upon it.
Make Energy Efficiency Practical
The ways to teach energy efficiency to children depend vastly on their age, but give even a small child two buckets of water, one filled and one empty, and give them the choice of doing it with a tiny spoon or a giant scoop, and they know inherently which is more efficient. Explain that old incandescent light bulbs, like the Centennial Bulb, are like the small scoop: they don’t use energy efficiently. You can even bring in money (the universal language) and explain how much more it costs to run old lightbulbs vs. newer ones, and they will soon catch on as to why there is such a focus on becoming more efficient in today’s world.
Don’t shy away from what seem like difficult concepts, because, in a few years, they will be the ones begging you to replace all the light bulbs and install solar panels.
What suggestions do you have for talking to your kids about energy education? Please share with us in the comments!