The poll of over a thousand parents, conducted for Shell UK on social networking site Mumsnet, found that only a third of parents (32%) regularly talk to their children about how science works in everyday life, such as explaining why steam comes out of a boiling kettle.  This is despite 99% recognising that talking to children about science at home makes a significant or massive difference to their progress at school.

When tested with a series of science questions, parents showed a strong grasp of science.  More than half (52%) of parents answered the whole series of questions such as ‘why does a cruise ship carrying 400 people float?’ and ‘why do your hands and feet go wrinkly in the bath?’ correctly, and a further 35% got two thirds of the answers right.

A lack of confidence is standing in the way of regular conversations with children about science however, with reasons cited including feeling under-qualified due to poor grades at school (18%), not understanding science (15%) and a lack of available information (12%).

The research was commissioned by the Shell Education Service which has been supporting science education for over fifty years. It delivers interactive, investigative science workshops to over 60,000 primary school children every year across the UK. Shell has launched a free online booklet of kitchen-sink experiments for parents, Activate, just in time for the summer holidays.

The poll also identified the questions parents most dread being asked with the top answer ‘why is the sky blue?’ (29%) far outweighing ‘where do babies come from? (1%).  The top five scientific black spots for parent are:

  1. Why is the sky blue? (29%) 
  2. Why does the car work? (21%)
  3. Why can birds fly? (15%) 
  4. What is water made of? (10%) 
  5. How do fish breathe? (9%) 

The Activate booklet from Shell Education Service contains a series of fun and easy experiments that parents and children can undertake at home to help stimulate children’s enjoyment of science.  These include growing your own crystals, creating a home version of the spin dryer and building an explosive soft drink fountain.

James Smith, Chairman of Shell UK, said: ‘It's great news that parents can do more to help their children learn science than they realised. And learning science by trying out experiments is fun for children and their parents.”

Rachel Foster, from Mumsnet said: ‘Parents may worry that they’ll give the wrong answer to some of the more difficult science questions asked by their children, and as a result some are avoiding discussing the subject altogether. This new booklet from Shell presents a brilliant opportunity for families to learn together whilst also having fun – the perfect combination as the long summer holiday dawns!’

To download a free copy of the Activate booklet visit:

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