Chris Ferrie is a quantum physicist, academic, father and the author of the Baby University series — baby books that explore topics such as general relativity, blockchain, engineering and organic chemistry. In a recent interview, Ferrie answered Parentology’s questions about his books, as well as his philosophies on education, innate curiosity and the future of science in the workforce. By presenting big ideas in their simplest form, Ferrie shows us… science isn’t so scary.
As a scientist, what was the catalyst to foray into children’s books?
I certainly wouldn’t have written a children’s book had I not had children of my own. Being a scientist myself, I was always on the lookout for science books to read to my young children. When I saw someone else had written some math books for children and they’d self-published them, I started to think about writing about my area of expertise. When the title Quantum Physics for Babies popped into my head, I knew I had something that would at least cause some double-takes.
With kids learning basic STEM principles and design thinking as early as preschool, do you think Baby University fills a gap in the existing curriculum?
Reading is immensely important for children. Developing a routine early on helps. The problem is, all topics aren’t equally well-represented. Science and technology are responsible for so much of our daily lives now it’s strange to have so few children’s books dedicated to those subjects. The books fill a gap on bookshelves, not in a curriculum.
We shield children from these topics because we think they’re difficult, or that they’re not ready for them. The situation is so bad that we discuss when it is too young to introduce science to children.
Science is just a formalized way of exploring our natural curiosity. You don’t introduce it; you re-introduce it — and only because you’ve taken it away.
“Children are little scientists from birth.”
Let’s try to foster that. Let’s not worry about what our children know so much as what they can do. In fact, let’s not worry at all. Our obsession with assessment is antithetical to the idea that you’re going to teach creativity and foster curiosity.
You’ve said your book series isn’t actually for students or babies. Who is it for?
The series is for parents and carers. The books aren’t meant to teach facts to babies. Specific to each topic, I hope readers realize there’s far more to the world than presented directly to our senses. I hope parents feel less mystified by these seemingly complex topics. I hope that these books entice parents to continue reading and exploring science with their children.
Since writing with this ambition, I’ve received many messages about my books being used for all sorts of purposes. They are, of course, read to children, but also given to adult students for a little tongue-in-cheek humor. I’ve seen them on several occasions used as introductory ice-breakers at technology and business conferences, and I’ve had teachers in Japan tell me these are the best books to teach English to Japanese teenagers.
High school teachers have used the series as motivating examples in class projects to create books about their own subjects of study. And so, it seems then that babies are the only group “for babies” is not for!
How can we, as parents, foster the curiosity children already have at birth?
Children engage in pretend play in which they act out what adults do. This helps in developing and practicing the skills required to eventually become a contributing member of a community. I hope parents read my books to their children with excitement, enthusiasm, and curiosity. And I hope children feel the desire to emulate those things. I hope both engage in asking questions and guessing at answers. That’s what science is really about.
In your career, what are you most proud of?
I am proud of what I have accomplished so far, but I don’t stop to think too much about it. I certainly don’t think it is enough that I could comfortably rest on my laurels. There is so much more to do.
What do you hope people will take away from your books?
Regardless of what I write in children’s books, kids will always learn more from passive interactions with their parents and teachers. But, the problem is, many adults find physics and mathematics scary. I hear things like this all the time: “I was never good in science class, I’ll never understand physics, or I hated math in school.”
Whether it is intentional or not, they steer their children away from these topics. I want parents, and hence children, to not fear physics and mathematics and to see that, maybe, it can even be fun.
STEM Books for Kids — Sources
Chris Ferrie, PhD