Friday, May 31, 2013

maintain curiosity

How and what do children learn without a set curriculum and teaching for testing?

My children learn by following their interests with a lot of support for exploring new places and new ideas and interacting with new people as well as delving deeper into long-term interests and maintaining long-term friendships.

We live in a rural area and spend a lot of time at home.  This suits us perfectly because there is a lot here to keep us happy and busy and engaged, and we all seem to have a bit of introverted tendencies anyway.  Not to mention that there's the wondrous world wide web to help keep us connected, informed, and entertained. (Lately the girls have been enjoying BBC's Dance Mat Typing, BrainPOP, and Cyberchase math games, as well as the usual Netflix and YouTube fair.)
Sylvia finishing her painted tea set

cherry blossoms becoming cherries

chicks becoming chickens

one of the hens checking them out on their first day in the wider world

carrying them from the indoor brooder to a fenced area outdoors

Ayla really wanted to pick them flowers and seed heads to snack on

Camille back from a bike ride with our dog, Carly 

Camille playing a BrainPOP game involving frogs and fractions

If you paint your own li'l tea set, naturally you want to have mint-nettle-pineapple weed tea with your sisters, and white chocolate and fresh fruit salad, too.

When we do leave our nest, I plan for lots of extra time to explore anything that might catch our fancy.  Museums and nature reserves and zoos are obvious great choices to bring curious children to see.  We've enjoyed visiting and learning from many places like the Circus World Museum, the International Crane Foundation, the Henry Vilas zoo, and lots of state parks and natural areas.  These planned excursions are great, but we also like to get side-tracked by random places along the way.  Cemeteries, bridges, dams, creeks, Native American mounds, railroad tracks, a turtle on the side of the road, all of these have caused us to pull over and take a closer look.

Recently, we were planning on a nice day at home, but being that we had overdue library materials, it called for out and about.  Well, 8 miles or so in either direction leads us to a library, but 20 miles away is a nice, big library plus a grocery store with a natural foods section, and friends nearby.  So that's the destination for the day.

The park behind the library had a lot of construction activity, so naturally we checked it out from a safe distance.

 When we came out of the library there was a worker in a cherry picker directly above our van.  Cool.  Then, while we were at the grocery store a tornado siren went off causing all of the shoppers and employees to be herded into a 'safe area' in the back of the store.  Yep.  We had to stand inside of the giant dairy cooler.  It was cold, but we got to see where they stock all of the refrigerated cases from behind the scenes.

OK, danger over, we moved on, heading to a friend's house that lived nearby, but not until we stopped at some picturesque railroad tracks by a riverside.

wild mint grew all along the edge of the tracks on this stretch

Ayla admired this lone flower in the rocks

Not all of our stops are complete successes.  This one was a bit mosquito-y and when it started to rain on us the girls were ready to dash to the van.

When we arrived at our friends' house, there was time for playing and knitting and chatting and admiring babies (twins) who loved to play with my yarn.  I knew it would get all unraveled and likely chewed on, but one of the babes was so fascinated and delighted that it was well worth it :)

The bigger kids were in and out playing a game of their own creation.
On the way home we stopped to see if any of the calves in this field were nursing from their mama cows.  They weren't this time.

 We pulled over one last time, close to home, for a particularly succulent patch of wild columbine.  The girls love to suck the nectar out of the tips. 
I do, too.

Back at home, I looked over some of the local travel brochures that I picked up while at the library.  Maybe I'll discover some new local places to explore.

Kids' innate curiosity drives their learning.  From "Mama, do worms have bones?" to "What keeps the bridge up?" to "Who is that a statue of?"  We can touch on zoology, physics, history, and more. For anything that I don't have the answer for there's always google :)

I think one of the biggest factors in helping my kids learn and explore is maintaining my own curiosity.  It makes for a good life, too.

* I've written before about our tendency to get side-tracked by eagle spottingAmish countryDr. Evermore's road-side attraction , and a local state park.  

Thursday, May 30, 2013


We recently got coupons in the mail for a resident's discount to a local tourist attraction, the Tommy Bartlett Exploratory Interactive Science Center.  It boasts over 175 interactive activities.  Naturally, we had to check it out.  It was a lot like a science museum, but much more kitschy.

We were welcomed by a robot.

One thing that I've learned as a parent to my particular children is to take things at their pace.  Other children at the exploratory seemed perfectly happy to flit from activity to activity or to follow their parents' lead through the activities. This is not how my family works at these things. 

Right now, I have a 3 year old who wants to do the exact thing that is in one of her big sisters' hands at any given moment, a 6 year old who doesn't take kindly to that kind of nonsense, and a 9 year old who's prone to sensory overload.  And yet, somehow, we all think it's a good idea to go through a bunch of activities that flash and move and beep and make other sudden noises and have optical illusions and generally involve only one person at a time.

Approximately 12 times a minute, I soothed and distracted and read directions and answered questions and picked up or set down Ayla.  The other moments I snapped a photo or tried an activity myself.  It was fun, actually, but not relaxing in any way.

plasma globe

The crackle tube is another kind of plasma lamp.

The marble clock was a device that took exactly one minute to bring a marble up to the top of the contraption.  As the new marble came up and rolled into place, the weight balance caused other marbles to be displaced.  This clock is showing 1:19. 

Ayla loved anything with a phone receiver.  This one lets you listen to the sounds from the parking lot and direct a camera to see what's going on down there.

concave and convex mirrors

Air currents cause these balls to 'levitate'.

star walk

Together, Camille and Sylvia could power all of the lights on the Rainbow Bicycle Generator.

Sylvia fairly yodeled into the receiver that displayed wave patterns from sound vibrations.

When you're riding a bicycle 12 feet up in the air, it's nice to have some counterweights!

teamwork in the Virtual Sports Center


Camille lifting Sylvia for their Top 10 photo in the virtual game player

Sand sprinkled on a metal plate creates a beautiful pattern when the plate is vibrated by running a bow over it.  It makes an awful screeching sound, though. 

We had one dramatic sensory overload moment.  Those happen.  Not a full hour later, it was declared to have been the 'best day ever!'

This giant lever assisted Camille and Sylvia in lifting a 5,000 lb vehicle well off of the ground!

I'm sometimes surprised by what catches my children's attention and what doesn't.  The Van de Graaff Generator.  Eh. . .  But the rubber band art.  Fascinated.

Overall, I'd say we stayed at least three times as long as any of the other families that I saw go through the exhibits.  While it may have taken a bit more attention and alert presence on my part, I'd say we all had a better experience for it.

I'll never know exactly what my children learned from this.  I won't quiz them on static electricity or physics concepts, but judging by the conversation on the way home, there are all kinds of new ideas floating around in their heads now.  Learning in action.