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Wired For Learning
by Michele Hastings
 

(Whether it's concocting elaborate experiments in the kitchen or submerging themselves in nature, science is always brewing at our house, almost never initiated by me.)

"I think I've got it!" exclaimed Tymon for not less than the third time since beginning his self-directed attempt at making what he referred to as a spy light. He'd been digging around in what we've named our junk drawer, and discovered some intriguing items, which sparked the idea. He wanted to design a small, hand-held light for playing cops and robbers. Excitedly, he pulled out a various assortment of wires, batteries and light bulbs with which to create his invention and quickly set to work, determined to design the nifty spy light of his imagination.

One hour rolled into the next, as he diligently made one attempt after another to successfully get electricity flowing from the batteries to the bulb. As his younger brother, Asher, lounged in front of the television eating his soup, playing a Sega game and watching their favorite lunch time program, Red Green, Tymon labored over his project. Undistracted by his growling stomach and my periodic urging to eat lunch before we had to leave for the afternoon, he persevered towards meeting his objective.

When either child is absorbed in a project of his own design, I hate to interrupt the flow. But the boys had a prior commitment this afternoon, leading a gym class for a group of 4- and 5-year-old homeschoolers at our weekly Friday Afternoon Activities. Time ticked by as Tymon fiddled and fumbled, experimenting and making adjustments to his rugged design. He ignited sparks, created smoke and blackened his fingers through the process. Finally he even broke down and pulled a book off of his shelf called The Kingfisher Young Discoverers Encyclopedia of Facts and Experiments to understand more about simple circuits.

Learning took place and fun was had, despite the unfortunate fact that he had to lay aside his device before achieving his objective in order to fulfill his obligation at Friday Activities. However, like Thomas Edison, who considered failed attempts to be simply a weeding out process, Tymon refused to accept defeat and returned to his laboratory at the kitchen table later in the afternoon.

Because the enterprise was self-initiated, and it wasn't graded or tested, satisfaction lay in accomplishing his own goal. The desire to do so, kept him persevering long past any assigned project would have received his attention. The prize was not an "A" but a useable, workable spy light.

Not being much of a science fan myself, I'm glad one of our sons shows such an interest and natural aptitude for this daunting subject. Besides enjoying experiments, Tymon is an avid nature nut, finding great joy and satisfaction outdoors, observing, collecting and identifying rocks, shells, leaves, flowers, insects, fish, birds and even small animals.

After returning home from an outing or hike, pockets bulging and buckets filled, Tymon is quick to head for his bookshelf, laden with nature guides, to identify each treasure and set up habitats for any new creatures he'd like to add to his collection. So far, he has caught snakes, frogs, salamanders, insects, spiders, minnows, birds, mice and voles.

Tymon's store bought pets have been many and varied as well. Despite the fact that I'm not much of a pet person myself, I've been pretty open to his suggestions for anything we've brought home from the pet store, but certain conditions apply. The boys are responsible to do some research about each creature they are considering adding to their zoo, as well as financing and caring for their purchases. Their research, often instigated by Tymon, is usually accomplished through questioning pet store clerks, and reading information on the Internet, as well as books from the library. Tymon usually ends up paying for cages, supplies, food and the animal itself, by saving his allowance and earning extra money however he can. Paid jobs have included raking leaves, shoveling snow, washing cars, holding garage sales and backyard carnivals, selling ice-cream, lemonade and cookies to kids returning home from school, stuffing envelopes for his aunt's business, doing extra housework and teaching various classes. Asher gets involved in some of these enterprises as well, but usually Tymon takes the bulk of responsibility for most of their animals, being the one to show more interest in this area.

Presently, our home is devoid of pets, but we have housed Hermit Crabs, fish, Fire Bellied Newts, a White's Tree Frog, Budgies, mice, gerbils and a Lop-Eared bunny. The boys are fairly responsible about taking care of their charges, but some eventually become overwhelming and the boys have chosen to exchange one pet for another that would be hopefully, lower maintenance.

The most educational pets we've owned were mice, which we bred. It was amazing to watch the birthing process and observe the roles each parent took in caring for their litter. Some of the babies we were able to pass on to neighborhood children, but most had to be turned loose in a nearby field.

The most frustrating animal, although adorable, was Snuggles, our lop-eared rabbit who we had to finally return to the pet store after unsuccessful attempts to housetrain him and obnoxious and destructive habits he'd developed.

When the boys were younger, we spent a lot of time ingesting books and science and nature videos. The Magic School Bus series, Acorn the Nature Nut and Bill Nye the Science Guy were among Tymon's favorites. He still enjoys hunting and fishing programs and nature documentaries such as The Crocodile Hunter.

Not to exclude Asher, his most enjoyable scientific moments usually involve baking soda, vinegar and food coloring. Being somewhat of a chef, Asher loves to do his exploration dabbling in the kitchen. As well as creating colorful, gooey messes and bubbling, gurgling volcanoes, Asher enjoys mixing food colors to create exotic color schemes or mixing oil with water and food coloring to create intriguing layers.

So whether it's concocting elaborate experiments in the kitchen, or submerging themselves in nature, science is always brewing at our house, almost never initiated by me.

Michele and her husband, Ted, are the homeschooling parents of two bright and creative boys, ages 10 and 11. They live in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada and have been leading a lifestyle of learning since the children were born. Ted is a Developmental Assistant, working with multiply-disabled children in a school setting and Michele is a part-time hairstylist who loves to write.
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