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Science and maths questions are the ones parents fear most


Picture posed. Thinkstock

Picture posed. Thinkstock

Picture posed. Thinkstock

THE questions which parents most fear from their children include being asked why the moon is out during the day and why the sky is blue, a survey has concluded.

Researchers found that two thirds of parents are often stumped for an answer by their children’s questions, particularly on mathematics and science.

Aside from those on the moon and sky, they found the most perplexing demands also included how aeroplanes stay airborne, what makes a rainbow and why there are different time zones.

The natural world featured in a list compiled by the researchers with questions on the apparent disappearance of birds and bees in winter.

However, there were more esoteric queries, including whether aliens will ever be found, how much the Earth weighs and why water is wet.

Maths, a dreaded subject for many parents, also featured, with help with long division one of the least welcome requests.

A quarter of mothers and fathers admitted to feeling frustrated and embarrassed by their intellectual shortcomings, the survey found.

However, in case the questions are beginning to make some readers a little uncomfortable, the researchers also provided a potted guide with the help of Professor Brian Cox, the scientist and broadcaster.

For those who were not certain as to why the moon can be visible in the day, it is due to the moon’s rotation putting it in the correct position to be lit by the sun.

As to the sky’s blueness, this is because light, which contains many colours, is split by particles in the atmosphere which send out more blue light than any other.

If a different colour was sent out better, the sky might well be a different colour, such as orange.

One 32-year-old mother of two from north London said she was constantly asked questions by her four-year-old daughter.

She said: "If the question is a particularly challenging one it can be hard to put it into simple terms.

"She has often asked me about the moon being out in the daytime - on the way home from school.

"I tell her that the moon is always in the sky but that we can sometimes see it in the daytime because the sky is clear and the sun is shining on it which means we can see it even though it isn't dark.

"If I'm really stuck I use my fail-safe answer - "Daddy is better at explaining things like that. Go and ask him"."

The nationwide study was commissioned for The Big Bang UK Young Scientists & Engineers Fair, which describes itself as the UK's largest such event for young people.

Around 2,000 parents took part and one in three said they were asked scientific or mathematic questions by their children on a daily basis.

Half of parents said they were worried about answering their children’s queries on those subjects.

One in three admitted to furtive researching to save face before answering their child.

A fifth of people said they either invented an answer or claimed no one knew the truth and 16% of respondents simply passed the query to the other parent.

One in six parents said their child’s interest in science had been boosted by programmes such as the BBC’s Frozen Planet series and its Wonders of the Universe show, which is presented by Prof Cox.

Prof Cox, who is supporting The Big Bang, said: “Inquisitive minds are fantastic, but clever questions can often leave parents in a tricky situation if they don’t have the answers.

“The best thing parents can do is work with their children to find the answers – not only can it be fun, but you’ll both learn something new along the way. And there are lots of exciting opportunities to learn out there.”

Despite the interest in the subjects, figures published by the World Economic Forum last September showed that the quality of maths and science education in the UK was falling behind that of Iran, Trinidad and Estonia.

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, has recommended returning the teaching of science into the separate subjects of biology, chemistry and physics instead of teaching it by themes.

The Big Bang takes place at The NEC, Birmingham, from March 15 to 17 and tickets are available free online by registering at www.thebigbangfair.co.uk.


1. “Why is the moon sometimes out in the day?”

Basically it’s visible because it’s just another object being lit by the sun. So when it’s in the right place we can see it. If the moon is around 45 degrees or even 90 degrees off the sun then half of it will be lit up really quite brightly.

2. “Why is the sky blue?”

Sunlight is really a lot of different colours of light mixed together. Light passing through the sky bounces off particles in the air and the blue light gets bounced around the most and is therefore seen everywhere you look.

3. “Will we ever discover aliens?”

Nobody knows the answer. No life exists in our solar system and the closest galaxy to ours is trillions of miles away so no human could survive the trip. As we develop our space technology, the chances of finding alien life increases.

4. “How much does the earth weigh?”

The earth weights 1,000 trillion metric tons. That’s the equivalent of 570,000,000,000,000 adult Indian elephants.

5. “How do airplanes stay in the air?”

The upward lift of a plane is created thanks to the special curved shape of a plane’s wings. The way air flows over and under the curved wing is what allows a plane to lift up. Planes are able to stay in the air because they have more upwards lift than the natural downward pull of gravity.

6. “Why is water wet?”

Wetness is just a feeling. It’s something that our brains tell us about what we’re touching. It is a combination of temperature, pressure and the way it moves which tells our brains that water is wet.

7. “How do I do long division?”

Long division is a way of dividing long numbers that would be tricky to do in your head. Practice makes perfect. It your maths skills are a little rough round the edges, ask for help from a friend, relatives or your child’s teacher.

8. “Where do birds / bees go in winter?”

Honey bees cease flying when temperatures drop below 50F (10C) and gather around the queen in a sort of vibrating ball or cluster. This movement keeps the queen and colony warm enough to survive throughout the winter. British birds tend to stick together to improve their chances of survival by conserving body heat and locating food.

9. “What makes a rainbow?”

This is when sunbeams go through raindrops suspended in the air, and this causes the white light to deflect and split into different colours.

10. “Why are there different times on earth?”

If we had one single time zone for Earth, noon would be the middle of the day in some places, but it would be morning, evening and the middle of the night in others. Since different parts of the Earth enter and exit daylight at different times, we need different time zones – 24 of them in fact.