The Mommy Rush

Learning, Exploring, Creating, and Growing.

Archive for the tag “Science”

Minds in the Making: 6 Tips to Engage Your Kids This Summer

Last week, I had an idea, one that I think has the potential to be a great idea. Since October of last year, I’ve been self-employed which doesn’t really tell you much except that I have an awesome boss. In my case, I’ve spent the last several months splitting my time between consulting work (emails, phone calls, and reports) and research for a book project on how to improve the American education system (emails, phone calls, and writing). So, really I could be considered a ‘professional communicator’. If it weren’t for the fact that I am generally talking to some pretty amazing teachers and school leaders, who are at the helm of some extremely innovative education initiatives, I might just lose my mind. In truth,the last several years of my unusual career have given me the opportunity to work with and learn from programs from around the world that are having an amazing impact on kids.

So, what is this idea? Since this year is all about balance, and it is the first summer that I will have the luxury of sharing a good portion of it with my littlest kiddos (Little Son-8 and Baby Girl-4), I decided I wanted to try out some of what my research is telling me about how best to engage kids through informal learning experiences. I imagined sort of “home-brewed” summer camp. As I began to think about how I might be able to engage Little Son in a project, I immediately had a vision of him throwing a fit because he would much rather hang out with his friends! LIGHTBULB… Why not create a camp for Little Son AND his friends to engage the group in some informal learning experiences? And the spark was lit…

It took me less than an hour to put together an email that clearly articulated the idea and I sent it out to the parents of the friends of the Little Son. Within 3 days I heard from 13 families who were interested! The responses were pretty consistent, with an approximate 2:1 “brilliant to crazy” ratio, which made me think I may be onto something. So, I set to work coordinating calendars and came up with about 4 weeks where there were enough kids interested and available to plan a local DIY summer camp!

If you’re looking for ways to engage your own children this summer vacation, here are some tips to help nurture their curiosity through informal learning experiences. These techniques are all derived from educators around the US who are using interest-based learning, place-based learning, project-based learning, and service-based learning to ignite students’ natural curiosity about the world around them, to empower them to take control of their own learning, and ultimately to build the skills necessary to be successful in the global economy.

  1. Assess their interests and learning styles. What are they naturally interested in and how do they learn best? Research tells us that when a child is engaged in an activity that falls into their “interest domain”, they are more motivated to learn. It is this intrinsic motivation that has the greatest impact on a child’s abilities and achievements. Find out what interests them – it is the key to their motivation! (I’ve developed an Interest Assessment for use with K-5 grade level, feel free to access and use to help identify interests and learning preferences for your own kids)
  2. Get outside and explore! I recently posted on my own experience recognizing my disconnection with nature. My experiences with Nature University as well as conversations with teachers have convinced me that Nature has a unique power to fully engage your senses and to inspire creativity. I recently interviewed a teacher in Massachusetts who manages the Eco-Explorer program for elementary teachers. One of their techniques for teaching with the outdoors is a “10-minute field trip”, which is just enough time to sketch a flower, test some soil, or clear your head for that next great idea.
  3. Play lots of games (yes, including video games) and create new games! I am not a huge fan of video games, but I will admit my kids do enjoy playing them. And I tend to agree with the research that tells us that Games are NOT the enemy, despite the fact that so much of the world’s problems are blamed on video games. It’s hard to imagine there could be anything good about having our children spend hours staring at a screen and plotting and strategizing about how to reach the next level of Super Mario Brothers. But research tells us that process of learning how to play a new game actually develops the very skills we hope kids will hone by the time they reach adulthood. I am of the philosophy that if playing video games has some benefit, then designing video games must build useful skills as well. The fact is that there are few activities that will provide more training to solve real-world problems than designing a video game. Give kids a chance to play games and use the experience to create something new!
  4. Explore your community. A couple months ago, I spent some time talking with an amazing teacher in San Diego who took this approach with her science students; they spent one day a week out of the school building. And the results were astounding, kids made discoveries about the world just from observations in their own backyard. But even more important,this helps kids to understand what it means to be a part of a community. How are we all connected and how can we contribute to our community to solve a problem or serve a purpose? No matter where you live, there are rich experiences available to introduce your kids to different perspectives.
  5. Ask questions, research, and learn. Do people ever read a newspaper anymore? Well, in our community they do, though information overload is a very real problem and one that our children need to know how to manage. Access to information is no longer a luxury. For kids growing up today, digital natives, the critical issue has become how to cut through the overwhelming amounts of information to determine what is important, relevant, and accurate. Spend time reading and looking for information through available resources and build experiences around what you find. These experiences are building a foundation for lifelong learning, a skill that is necessary in the fast-moving economy we live in.
  6. Learn about another culture. Last summer , our family took an extended vacation to a small-town in Mexico. Instead of staying in a big resort, where we would have met lots of people from places just like our hometown, we rented a home in a small fishing town and attempted to integrate our selves in the local community. I can’t put into words how powerful it was to watch my children adapt to a new environment with a different language, different foods, and different challenges. Although the stay was only 2 weeks, it was long enough for all of us to appreciate that we are just one piece of the global puzzle, and it sparked a desire in the kids to learn about cultures different from our own. Travel is a wonderful way to do this, but it is not the only way, there are organizations and institutions everywhere that are dedicated to sharing their culture with the public. Take advantage of these opportunities for you and your children!

If you’re looking for ideas to keep your kids busy this summer, with worthwhile activities that will allow them to continue to grow, this should get you started. And stay tuned for more information about how to develop your own DIY Summer Camp with your kids!

Need a new perspective? Sometimes it’s as simple as just stepping outside!

I am conditioned to find examples of innovative technology and engineering, everywhere. It is just who I am. Whether I am in the grocery store ringing up my own purchase with a self-scanning machine, reading the newspaper about the new solar cell project, or simply evaluating the new gadget or app that comes out onto the market to make my life easier, as an engineer, and an engineering educator, innovation catches my eye. But recently, I’ve realized that as an engineer – someone focused on the study and creation of the human made world – I have been missing out on all of the science – the study of the natural world – that goes on right under my nose. And what a world it is…

I first recognized my lack of connection with nature after reading a very well-known book about the importance of nature in child development, by Richard Louv. The Last Child in the Woods lays out the author’s theory that kids today are suffering from what he calls Nature Deficit Disorder, not a clinical term, but one that is easily understood when described. As I read the book, I very quickly identified myself in Louv’s description of the consequences of being raised without a connection to nature. For some reason, this realization bothered me. How had I lived my life, up to this point without realizing and taking advantage of all that nature had to offer me, not only as an engineer or scientist, but as a teacher, a parent, A PERSON ??! (As a follow on, I’ve recently begun reading Louv’s latest book, “The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature Deficit Disorder”, that was inspired by adults who approached him after “The Last Child…” to insist they suffer from NDD, as an adult. Highly recommend both books, the latter is more current, though Last Child … is still very accurate)

And so when I came across the opportunity to apply for a local naturalist training program for adults interested in environmental education, I immediately jumped at the chance. Nature University, as it is called, is coordinated by the agency in Portland, Oregon Metro, which manages much of the natural resources in the urban area. Nature U is by application only – to be accepted you must have either a background in environmental or natural resource programming or experience working with youth in formal or informal educational settings AND a desire to share nature with the community. The program is structured very much like it sounds, a 10 week university level course that introduces and engages participants in all aspects of environmental and naturalist education. It is a free course, but in exchange, participants must commit to giving at least 40 hours of volunteer time, within 12 months, in the form of hosting and leading field trips at the local natural areas and parks managed by the organization.

To say that my eyes have been opened to a new world would be an understatement. In fact, the first skill we learned was how to increase our nature awareness through “Owl Eyes” (vision), “Deer Ears” (hearing), and “Fox Walking” (silent walking) – all intended to give us a better chance at observing nature in its, well, natural form. We’ve begun to learn to interpret Bird Language, the calls, postures, and behaviors of birds to determine what is happening in the nearby area, Animal Tracking, observing the imprints left behind by wildlife in soil, snow, mud, or other ground surfaces to tell the story of the animals in the immediate eco-region, and overall nature interpretation, using story telling to convey the interrelationships between all living species.

The experience has been amazing and inspiring, as it seems I am being introduced to my world through a new lens. In fact, I’ve been trying to document the experience through a literal new lens, the camera that I bought myself for my birthday, in January. I’ve included some of my recent photos below. Since beginning this course at the end of January, I’ve been to more natural areas, wildlife refuges, and preserved wetlands than I have in my entire life, all to try to soak in all that I’ve been missing. The bonus is, that these experiences are perfect for sharing with children, and have given me some wonderful ideas and excuses for spending time with my own children. I can confirm that spending time in nature is a perfect universal experience that allows for shared learning and bonding – exactly what a family should be doing!

The lesson I’ve learned is that sometimes we don’t have to look very far to find a new way of looking at the world, sometimes all it takes is the intention and desire to quiet our minds and take in all that is happening around us. If you are looking for a new perspective, a way to clear your head of the stress of daily life, or even just a way to connect with your own children and family, get outside, take a walk, look up and down, listen and learn! If you need help, the list below has some wonderful tips to get the most out if you experience in nature (excerpted from koransky.com).

Tips for Experiencing Nature

  1. Clear the mind of all clutter, worries accumulated during daily living. This can occur naturally during an extended stay in the wilderness.
  2. Let go of time. Live in the now, not the past or future. Don’t fret about the past, don’t worry about the future. You are not on a schedule out here.
  3. Walk slowly and see more.
  4. Sit down. (“If you were to sit under an oak tree for an entire day, you would have enough information to write an entire book.” – John Burroughs.
  5. Let go of worries. Identify what is worrying you and let it pass.
  6. Be alive. Pretend you only have a week to live and every moment matters.
  7. Be quiet. Silence in nature is the rule, noise is the exception. (example: walking through woods)
  8. Don’t analyze (I.E. calculating gallons/sec of waterfall).
  9. Try without trying. Can you get to sleep when you try to get to sleep?
  10. Don’t try to name things. Names can’t describe!
  11. Nothing is commonplace. Each plant is unique, each animal different.
  12. Follow your heart! John Muir was asked, where are you going? “Anyplace that’s wild!” If something looks interesting, check it out. Follow your instincts and urges and you will be surprised!
  13. What will people think? Who cares! Let go of inhibitions! Force yourself to do something crazy and you’ll find it easier to follow your heart.
  14. Let go of prejudices. You never know what is going to be around the corner.
  15. Immerse yourself. Jump into the swamp, get dirty, play in the mud! (example: hiking in rain with cliff)
  16. Ignore discomforts, cold, hot, etc.. (remember as children?)
  17. Become that child!
  18. Best teachers are plants and animals.
  19. Nature is everywhere! Why do we have plants? To remind us of our connection to the earth. There is much to learn from a single potted plant.
  20. Deep relaxation, meditation can help! See below. Stalking can also get you into this relaxed alpha mind set.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain

Boys racing from the beach to lunch!

Which sums up the reason I decided that our family needed an extended vacation in a country outside of the US.  After much research and planning, we just arrived at our home away from home, for the next two weeks, in San Pancho, Mexico.  San Pancho is a small town just north of Puerto Vallarta, with a population of just under 1,000. It is safe to say that the town moves at a pace much slower that our entire family is used to, which is precisely the reason I chose the destination.  We were lucky to find a lovely rental home, Casa Asoleada, located right on the outskirts of town.  The cost for the 2 weeks is extremely reasonable, equivalent to what we pay for a long weekend in Central Oregon, mostly because it is the off-season for travel to Mexico.

Baby girl N hanging out with her Daddy

Though I’ve not written much about the recent change in my view of life (inspired in part by reading The Art of Nonconformity, by Chris Guillebeau, and Vagabonding, by Rolf Potts), this blog in itself is one part of my resolution to live, and in this case, parent, with intention.  One of my biggest concerns with the way we are raising our children, is the fear that they will grow up with a sense of entitlement, or the expectation that life should come easy to them.  Given that we live in one of the more affluent parts of Portland, OR and that none of the kids have ever known what it is like to ‘need’ anything, the point of this summer trip is to spend an extended period of time ‘living’ in a different part of the world to 1) give the children a global perspective of a world that does not center around Lake Oswego, OR, and 2) to introduce them to opportunities available to them outside of the US.  If they come to appreciate all that they are lucky to have in their lives, then that is a bonus!

Big Son N will enBig Son and me at lunch under the Palapas on Playa San Panchoter 10th grade in the fall and before long will need to begin thinking about colleges.  What better way to demonstrate why 4 years of Spanish language is so valuable, than to live in a Spanish speaking country. We want to give him the chance to practice speaking Spanish, to build confidence in his ability to communicate with other cultures.

I must say that there were many reasons we chose the sleepy town of San Pancho, not the least of which was the ability to tie in some volunteer work with the Project Tortuga conservation project. This amazing program recruits volunteers from around the world, to monitor the Mexican beaches for Olive Ridley sea turtles, who come to shore to lay eggs, and move the eggs to a hatchery to maximize the number of surviving turtles that make it to sea.  The hatchling season is from June – August, so our timing was perfect for this opportunity.

Tomorrow I will post on the adventures we’ve had since we’ve arrived in San Pancho, there have been many, so stay tuned…

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