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Guest Blog: Learning through Play with Alom Shaha

Book cover Mr Shah'as Marvellous Machines

We love learning through play at the Brunel Museum! So we thought we’d get our good friend and science teacher Alom Shaha to help explain why its so beneficial!


Learning Through Play


My eldest daughter started in reception at primary school in September, and in a “getting to know you” type of exercise, told her teacher that she wanted to be a doctor when she grew up, so that she could “go to work with mummy and help people”. I think the “go to work with mummy” part is possibly more important to her than the “help people” part, but her mum and I found this rather adorable. I should point out that my daughter has also said that she wants to be a “princess ballerina” and I suspect that, given the choice, she would opt for this career over one in medicine.


My daughter is lucky in many ways, not least in that, with a doctor for a mum and a science teacher for a dad, she has a lot of what social scientists refer to as “science capital”. This is a concept, analogous to social or cultural capital, which can help to “shed light on why particular social groups remain underrepresented in post-16 science, and why many young people do not see science careers as being ‘for me’, nor see themselves as a ‘science person'”. With her particular parents, my daughter is more likely to have positive attitudes and aspirations when it comes to science. I think all children should be given the opportunity to engage with science and engineering from a young age, not just because I think it opens up their career opportunities, but because I think knowing about science and engineering can enrich our lives in the same way that art, music, and literature do.


Many parents read to their children and help them take their first steps towards being able to read for themselves. Similarly, parents are usually the first to teach their children how to count and do simple sums, to draw and paint, sing, listen to music, and dance. These are things that come naturally to most parents, but fewer parents have the knowledge, confidence, or inclination to help their children engage with science. This is something that I’ve tried to address with my books for families – Mr Shaha’s Recipes for Wonder and Mr Shaha’s Marvellous Machines. Both contain activities, ranging from building a rubber-band powered car to dissecting a daffodil, which I believe can help children learn through play. I’ve provided instructions for parents and carers to help children develop scientific skills like observation, prediction, and how to identify variables and conduct a fair test. The second book is more focussed on “engineering” and all the activities are based around making home-made toys, which I think provide opportunities to develop children’s fine motor skills as well as encouraging problem-solving of the kind “real” engineers have to tackle.

I have no idea what my daughter will actually do for a living when she grows up, but I really want her, and indeed all children, to have as many choices as possible, to know that there are lots of different types of work out there which they could find enjoyable, satisfying, and rewarding.


Alom Shah will be signing copies of his book Mr Shah’s Marvelous Machines on Sunday 27 November Museum Shop Sunday. You can get 10% off instore and online. 

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