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Friday, April 29, 2011

I've been a #Scimom for 63 years. I know I don't look that old. The kids keep me young!
I really do need to chime in here before the month of April ends. It seems there is something of an event called #scimom around the internet. Being a mom and a lover of science. I want to address how one might raise kids that love learning and by default, will probably love science.

It's ok if my kids don't end up choosing science as a life's vocation. They just can't HATE science. In other words, if my kids don't choose science as their career, I'm perfectly fine as long as each has something they are passionate about and find ways to use their natural talents.

You may wonder if our house is a never ending splay of science experiments, terrariums, pets,
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 particle colliders and ecosystems? Yes and no. 
 
Pets.  Check. 
 
Spontaneous science experiments. Check. 
 
A slug named Mr. Slugglesworth, in his terrarium (may he rest in peace). Check.

For the remainder, it depends on if you consider the teen son's room an ecosystem and the tendency for items to fly through the house at the hands of boisterous children a potential particle collider.

I have four children, currently ages 19, 17, 15 and 12.  Boy, girl, girl, boy. While they are not done being raised, I think I have enough experience behind me to share what I think has "worked" so far. If these kids came in series (and not in parallel-ish-ness), I'd have 63 years experience raising kids! Significantly older than my age.

A bit of trivia: 
All of the kids, except # 3, were born at 38 minutes past the hour. These same three were born in the pm. Child # 3, fittingly very much her own person, was born on 48 minutes past the hour and in the am, inconsiderately keeping me awake all night (I still love you, don't worry, dear!). We affectionately tease her about being just a little different.

More trivia: 
After all kids' birthdays have been had in the year by July, the ages of the boys add up to the same age as the girls ages added. Did I figure this out? Not me! The kids did. 

So what? These numbers are unique to my children and they know it. They love to play with words and numbers. They were continually surrounded by words and numbers and enjoyed games played on paper and out loud. 

Finding the similarities and connections, as above, are part of how I wanted to help them create a curious world view where they

1) look for similarities
2) look for differences
3) make connections between unlikely items or ideas
4) ask "what is this an example of?"
5) ask "what is an example of this?"
6) wonders"if there were no limitations with what I could do with an item, what would I do with it?"
7) make observations and can articulate clearly what they are seeing and even "guess" some hidden attributes

Needless to say, dinners were filled with guessing games and lighthearted fun. Car rides were the opportunity for observations of the world. Every event is an opportunity to learn and a chance to stretch your knowledge. I liked to institute little challenges. "I'll bet I can read this book before you do!" of "It's been so long since I've done a times table, let's race and see who wins, I'll bet you'll beat me!"

I am a big believer in helping kids discover their talents and learning styles. I believed in stimulating different parts of their brains so thought it was a good idea to require that each kid play at least one instrument and take up at least one sport or dance.

This has been successful in allowing each child see what they are capable of doing and maybe where their limitations lie. Natural talent has been unearthed and either cultivated or tossed aside.

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This one should come as no surprise! Instill a Love of books--have books everywhere. It is very important that kids are surrounded by books. Visits to bookstores, especially to a defunct independent bookstore and libraries were (and still are) the norm for my kids. I am always happy to hear "Can we go to the library?" (Yes, they have computer time, GameBoy privileges and TV time, but they have been fairly good at balancing these things, thankfully!)

Ultimately, how can one get a child to want to learn? Find what they are curious about, interested in and passionate for, and use that (or those) as the basis for teaching all of the other topics such as reading, writing and math. It makes everything so much easier. Without curiosity and passion, learning will be drudgery.

Don't forget to be curious about the world yourself. Be willing to find the answers to things you don't know the answer to and articulate it out loud so kids see you solving problems. Be willing to help your kids find the resources they need to explore a topic they are interested in. 

Let your children out in the world and let it influence them!

Ahem. Bragging mom alert. :) My eldest son was an absolute genius at geography and even participated in the Nat Geo Geography Bee several years in a row, placing quite highly several times at the state level. I thought for sure this would be his destiny.

And then he was bullied by a tornado at age 12. Somehow this set something in motion inside of him that led him to pursue Atmospheric Sciences. He will be a junior at the U of Illinois this fall and is an intern for the USGS water survey. I would never have guessed this would happen, but he's doing quite well and seems comfortable with his decision.

Let your children experience a lousy chemistry teacher and a great physics teacher.
 
OK, maybe not, but this is what has inspired my eldest daughter to pursue science. Seeing how different teachers teach can give them perspective on how they best learn. If they have been given the tools to think about how they think, then these differences in teaching styles will make them better students.

In these "63 years", I have lived an long life with these human youngsters. Sometimes they are very trying, require WAY too much driving, have managed to knock the 'chaperone' out of me (don't ask about the bus ride to Disney) and maybe cost more than I wish they did, but they bring me an amazing amount of joy to watch them become the incredible people they are.
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