Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Go Outside and Open Their Eyes

Last month I was discussing how to teach science to grammarians with a very smart man who said,

"Teach them to go outside and open their eyes."

A smart mama at a Parent Practicum asked a similar question that I didn’t answer very well, as it caught me off guard. I should have responded with a quote we had just gone over in the Practicum from G.K. Chesterton. "We are perishing from want of wonder, not want of wonders."

With my penchant for naming things, I take for granted that others may struggle with studying the natural world. I forget that my boys can identify birds, fish, mammals, constellations, and weather patterns because their parents can identify those same things. I will argue to the bitter end that it is more spiritually satisfying to be able to say, "Look at that heron trying to swallow that bass," than "Look at that bird try to swallow that fish."

As a classical educator, I reject studying science solely by doing. Naming and doing go together. I can either contrive lessons that explain the natural world by using a lab described in a textbook or we can actually just go outside, open our eyes, and explore. My family is fortunate to live on a lake with lots of woods around. A fox visiting our dog food bowl is normal. Fishing and birding are regular activities. Even when we lived in a suburban yard, we still took walks on golf courses and parks, so experiential science, enjoying the wonders of creation, is just what we do when we are outside.

Today, the dog jumped into the lake intending to swim across to greet some people on the other bank. He is too friendly. I was in the kayak, so I started to chase after him. William ran along the bank to see if he could help me, while the David was swimming his usual laps to the dam and back. I caught up with Ranger, grabbed the dog’s collar and hoisted him onto my kayak.

As I turned around, there was our heron friend pinching a very large bass in his bill. As I drew the boy’s attention to the heron’s struggle on the shore, the dog also saw the wonder and was very eager to help the two foot tall aviator. William watched the pattern of the current so he could meet me, remove the dog, and secure him to his chain. David tread water while we waited to see what would happen.

The fish won, well kind of. He died while being unsuccessfully gulped. The heron coyly ate a few greens and flew off without apologizing for his greedy behavior. An hour later, the dead fish floated on the current past our dock. David commented, "There’s the bass our heron killed."

Earlier in the day, David and I visited some older neighbors who are really into gardening. They took the time to give us lemonade and cookies while we walked around the yard naming and smelling and touching perennials. A rose may be as sweet by any other name, but if you want to buy one to plant in your own garden, it helps to tell the horticulturist what you are looking for.

Now how do you bring dogs, herons, fish, currents, kayaks, gardeners, backyards, perennials, and boys into the school lab?
- Leigh

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