All kids are data kids: Tips & Resources to help kids explore data

On a recent sunny day, I needed a break and walked in my Seattle neighborhood. I noticed two children looking up and counting stars and comparing their observations with each other. I looked around and thought, “did someone make paper stars and hide them in the trees? I don’t see any stars.” I asked them, “where are the stars?” They responded, “we are imagining them!” WOW. They imagined a night sky full of stars, and were making observations and comparisons!

The encounter with these kids changed my perspective. I went from feeling a bit 'penned in' and uncreative to 'the sky's the limit' and being inspired. Imagining their clear starry night lifted me. This shelter-in-place situation poses an excellent opportunity for us to engage and encourage our kids to explore data and share their discoveries!

Before joining Tableau, I spent many years as a scientist and educator. A constant in my every role is a passion for helping people explore data and make discoveries. My experience has demonstrated that when we lift barriers and encourage existing potential, kids will surpass our expectations, teaching us valuable lessons along the way.

Data is all around us, and we need to support kids by encouraging them to interact with and analyze data early in life.

Four tips to guide data exploration

  1. Encourage Observation and Curiosity.
  2. Start with their interests. When students care about a topic, they will stick with that topic and explore it with enthusiasm. They will have the energy to pay attention and follow-through.

    Encourage them to ask questions. The core of the analytical flow is the ability to ask questions. Have kids ask some questions, then more questions, and help them find the answers.

  3. Support Creativity and Imagination.
  4. The key to becoming great problem-solvers is creativity. When we endeavor to answer questions with our data, we explore data in different directions to discover the best path to sharing a story from our data. When we encourage imagination and creativity in kids, we are preparing them to be great problem solvers. And, sometimes, as with my encounter, they lift our spirits and remind us of our creativity just beneath the surface.

  5. Make Comparisons.
  6. In his book, Beautiful Evidence, data visualization expert Edward Tufte calls out making comparisons as one of six principles of analytical design. We can help kids develop this skill by encouraging them to make comparisons with the phenomena that they observe. Kids seem wired to make comparisons—shapes, colors, and images—they’re always comparing. The two kids in the star example were making comparisons with each other in their imaginary data collection.

  7. Iterate.
  8. Give them a blank piece of paper and encourage them to make sketches and iterate upon the ‘results’ and stories that develop. Kids sketch and iterate naturally, and we can learn from them in this form of play. At TC19, Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic shares the importance of stepping away from the computer to sketch and iterate when forming data stories.

We designed a ready-made lesson to get you started

Our first activity is gathering data about your favorite movie characters. You can adapt the activity for any interest. Instead of movie characters, consider investigating items in your refrigerator, toys in a toy-box, clothes in your closet, or books on a shelf. Connect the activity to what kids are interested in to make it fun for them.

  • Download our Data Kids Activity (downloadable pdf + pen and paper required)
  • Join the #DataKids Revolution: Post pictures of your kid’s data journey for a chance to be featured on our social channels - simply use the #datakids hashtag.

This is just beginning

Explore and learn more about Tableau’s newest online educational program built for caregivers and educators seeking engaging, entertaining, and educational resources, specifically for kids. You will get free access to activities and building blocks for guiding kids as they dive in and discover the world around them through data analysis methods. Join us online to download the latest lessons and follow #DataKids on social media for more activities and fun with data. Learn more.

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