Belfast-bound CBeebies presenter Maddie Moate encourages kids to stay curious
Ahead of her appearance at next month's Northern Ireland Science Festival, CBeebies presenter Maddie Moate tells Jenny Lee how children are born scientists and gives parents advice on how to encourage their natural creativity and promote sustainability
HOW do bees sting? How is Lego made? How do rainforests make clouds? How does elephant poo turn into paper?
One girl with the answer to these and hundreds of other scientific questions is Maddie Moate, the Bafta-winning host of hit CBeebies series Do You Know?
In the series the 31-year-old explores the workings of everyday objects by asking how they are made or how they work, with the help of special cameras and animations. Maddie's YouTube channel is another hub of curious family content, packed with videos about science, wildlife, travel and engineering.
Next month Maddie will be bringing her brand new live show to Belfast and Strabane as part of the Northern Ireland Science Festival. "I'm going to be taking the audience on a journey with a nod to conservation. There will no doubt be a few cameras and some new music," she says.
Maddie has amassed a huge following of fans, young and old, including my own two children, whose questions I promised I would ask her. First up, my son's question, "What is your favourite metal?"
"Goodness me, no-one ever asked me that. I'm going to say copper because I love how it weathers. I love how it changes when it's left outside and something that starts bronzy and can end up looking beautiful turquoise green," Maddie says.
My daughter's question, "Why does Daddy snore?" is more straightforward for Maddie, who explains "the position he sleeps in probably blocks his airwaves slightly, which means that when the air runs through his nostrils it's making a funny sound".
Maddie has already finished filming series four of Do You Know? and an as yet unnamed spin-off show, all about animals, both of which will be broadcast on CBeebies later this year.
Whilst she instigated the ideas for the first series, all dilemmas are now posed by the viewers.
"As the show has gained popularity we are sent in heaps of questions and at the beginning of each series it's a case of working out what is achievable. Often the case that something is not made in the UK or the story isn't that interesting."
And what is the most fascinating fact she has discovering during filming?
"I've probably visited over 150 factories now, all vastly different. But I'm always shocked when I visit mass manufacturing food factories. There is something mind blowing about seeing 320,000 loaves of bread being made at the same time."
Although she enjoyed science in school, Maddie studied theatre, film and TV at university.
"I did drama, singing and dancing extra-curricular activities. As a young girl all my role models were in that world and it felt like the path I would naturally follow. I had a very stereotypical image of what science as a career could be and I didn't think that meant having fun," she admits.
Delighted to see more girls interested in Stem subjects and to be seen herself as a role model in that world, her advise to parents on how to encourage young people to foster a love for science is "find ways to get involved with science outside of school, so it becomes something fun that they own and they have a bit of independence with and not see it as just a school lesson".
"Also help them understand that science doesn't have to mean wearing a white coat in a lab. Actually there are a huge variety of creative jobs and science can be your ticket to travel the world and have amazing adventures," she says.
Maddie passionately believes that "all children are born scientists". "I genuinely believe that creating space for creativity, travel and new experiences gets us thinking outside of the box and can open up space to have a think, encourage questions and form your own conclusions. If we are asking questions, observing new things and wondering about the world, then by default, we are being scientists."
Maddie admits she was a really inquisitive child, who was "fidgety" and "cut wires" around the house, to discover how something worked.
"I haven't lost that curiosity. One of the hardest things about going around factories in Do You Know? is not being able to press buttons. That's why you will often see me walking with my hands behind my back," she laughs.
Abandoning her initial plan to become an actress, though her skills have come in useful in CBeebies pantomimes, Maddie's introduction to science communication was working for tech group Lady Geek, who made technology videos aimed at women.
"I had discovered YouTube at uni and was fascinated with this new world that was erupting online. Lady Geek was the start of a wave of jobs that involved me talking about, reviewing or experimenting with new technology and before I knew it I had become a technology journalist."
As well as her work with CBeebies, Maddie is a regular contributor to the natural history site BBC Earth and just last week launched Maddie Goes Electric – A beginners guide to driving an electric vehicle, for the web channel Fully Charged.
Engaged to fellow BBC science presenter Greg Foot, the pair regularly report from their travels on her YouTube channel.
"In Thailand we went in search of one the worlds largest smelliest flowers and came across a small factory that made paper out of elephant poo. It's an amazing recycling story about using something we think of as actual waste and turning it into a product that can actually be used."
So could we recycle animal poo in the UK and Ireland?
"As long as the animal is a vegetarian and only eats plant material, then yes, you can usually flatten it into paper," enthuses Maddie has also recently launched her own T-shirt range to inspire young scientists and engineers.
And has she any more inventions up her sleeve?
"I'd love to help invent a plane that could travel long distances, but run on renewable energy. I love to travel but it's hard not to feel guilty about the harm to the environment."
Maddie's advice to parents on encouraging a sustainable future is to get them involve in the changes you are making.
"Find ways to make recycling a fun activity by dipping into the recylcing bin to make crafts. I like to make bird feeders out of plastic bottles or hedgehog hideaways out of CD cases."
Maddie Moate Live! will take place at Belfast's MAC on February 15 and 16 and Strabane's Alley Theatre on February 17 as part of the NI Science Festival. For tickets and full programme visit Nisciencefestival.com