We are delighted to present an article by Samantha Gouldson, science writer, author and blogger, on writing about science for children.
In May 2014 I was approached by Lynn Schreiber, the founder and editor of the online children’s magazine Jump!. We’d been chatting on Twitter for a while and during one of our conversations I’d explained the concept of gravitational waves, which had recently been in the news. Lynn asked if I’d be interested in writing occasional articles about science for the magazine, which is aimed at tweens and early teens. Sure, I said. No problem. Never one to turn down a challenge, I decided to write the first article about the latest developments in quantum entanglement. If I could make quantum physics understandable for 8-14 year olds, I reasoned, I could explain anything.
That article was published in early June 2014. Since then I’ve written many more articles for Jump! magazine, covering subjects as varied as space exploration, climate change, medical advances and how fast Santa actually has to fly in order to make all his deliveries (about 39,000 miles per minute, if you were wondering). I’ve also written science articles for my own website, for Jump! Parents and recently for the Let Clothes Be Clothes campaign.
Writing about science for children is both very easy and incredibly difficult. If you ignore all the specialised terminology and acronyms, most science is actually fairly simple when you get down to the basics. Explaining the basic ideas is easy; once I’ve done that, explaining the more complex science built upon them is also pretty easy. The difficulties arise when I need to do both simultaneously, while also keeping my writing concise and interesting. There’s usually a lot of drafting and re-drafting involved, as well as many cups of tea!
When I’m writing I try to imagine the article as a conversation with a child; I often divide it into sections, each headed by a question that a child would be likely to ask at that point. This keeps me focused and ensures that I cover everything relevant without becoming too long-winded. I use illustrations, diagrams and photographs, both to aid the explanation and to break up the article so it doesn’t seem intimidating to less able readers.
I’m inspired by scientific magazines and websites as well as the news, but most of my work stems from questions I’m asked by children. Some of them are asked in person, some via Twitter or my Facebook page, and some via friends who are teachers. Children are naturally curious with a voracious appetite for knowledge, and I love helping them learn.