Friday, May 20, 2016

You Can't Be Anything You Want When You Grow Up: Cultivating an Interest in Science

People complain about how millenials all think they are special rainbow butterfly snowflakes, and part of that is we were all told that we could be anything we wanted to be when we grew up. That is a nice thought, but it isn't necessarily true and can be damaging. We can't all be the President. I probably couldn't have been a mathematician. Everyone has limitations, whether it is intellectual, financial, physical, and so on. With enough will power, I believe people can overcome many obstacles, but I try to be more helpful in a practical sense as my boys grow up.

I don't tell my sons they can be anything when they grow up. I tell them that they will have to work very hard and I will do my very best to help them achieve their dreams.

Growing up, my parents always took a great interest in my passions. I loved to write and draw. They would read my stories, tell me how great they were, and also give me suggestions for revisions. Their praise didn't end with saying, "You're such a special, unique snow flake." Instead, they tried to help me grow. When I was 10, I took an interest in computers and developing websites. This was 1995, so the internet was quite new. I watched part of some documentary on O.J. Simpson in which the narrator said O.J. was following in his father's footsteps. One night while I was loading the dishwasher, I borrowed the phrase and told my dad that I was following his footsteps by hoping to work with computers when I grew up. I expected him to be happy, but he replied with an abrupt, "No." His career centered on computers, which we all benefited from financially, but he knew that wasn't me. My parents always told me that I was either going to go to college or had to have a clear, specific alternative plan for a career.

Obviously, I didn't go into the tech field. Instead, I continued writing and reading. I majored in English at a small liberal arts college, earned my M.A. in English, and then also my doctorate in Education. Now I am an English professor by day and a writer and doodler by night.

Like my dad, I want my boys to find their own passions. I read to them, write stories with Eliot, and we love to draw together. However, Eliot says he wants to be a Paleontologist. I don't just say, "You can be whatever you want to be." Instead, I tell him, "That's really great. If you truly want to be a Paleontologist, go to school, and work hard, I believe you can. And I'll do whatever I can to support you."

It doesn't stop there, though. I have been working on teaching Eliot to read over the past few months. As an English professor, I can teach him all about literature and writing, but I hope to inspire in my weaker areas as well. I honestly did not excel at math in school. I found zoology and marine biology to be incredibly inspiring, but most other sciences bored me. Give me the animals, please. If Eliot is going to be a Paleontologist, he will need to double major in both Geology and Biology. He will need to have an understanding of computers and statistics. I can read to him, help him draw, write stories together, and even explain statistics, but there is much more to learn in other fields. And I'm not trying to fully invest in this one career idea--didn't we all want to be Paleontologists?--but I think it is important for me to try to help inspire an interest and understanding outside of my own comforts.

While school is out this summer, I'm trying to give him some scientific experiences. I'd love to send him to a dino day camp, but the only local one I found is for eight-year-olds--and it is full anyway. Eliot and I went to the planetarium this week and learned all about Mars. I'm not too concerned with him retaining all of the information--it's a lot! More than anything, I want him to have positive engagements with science to spark his interest. My hope is that if I can ignite a passion for learning in him, he can use that to intrinsically motivate himself when school gets difficult. So, here are just some of the science-y summer activities I have looked into.

The planetarium
In our area, we are very lucky to have a planetarium open to the public. Each month has a different "show," so I plan to take Eliot once a month.

Netflix documentaries
Netflix has a ton of documentaries, especially animal ones. We usually end up watching a few a week in the evenings after dinner.

Day camp at the Virginia Aquarium
We are members of the aquarium and go quite a bit. They have three-hour "day camps" for five-year-olds for only $30 a day. I plan to sign Eliot up for at least one session.

Day camp at the Virginia Zoo
We are also members of the zoo. For kindergarten students, they have a couple of three-hour, week-long day camps to explore various aspects of animals and the zoo. This is $180 for members, so I'm not sure if I am going to sign him up, especially since it is a week long. Maybe I can find a different "behind the scenes" option for him because he just loves animals.

First Landing State Park
At the bay, the state park has lots of small educational activities for kids. In the summer, there is something going on almost every day. They even cast nets in the bay to see what they can catch (and of course release again).

NASA Kids Club
NASA has some supplemental material for kids as well to work through:

Our own nature walks
Of course, we don't necessarily need a "guide" to engage with science and nature. We can do it on our own as well. We go for walks in the woods and try to make observations. I tell the boys everything I know from identifying trees, how trees reproduce, what kinds of animals could live there, and so on. We've had a good time catching critters in our little nets at the Narrows and learning about crabs, mollusks, jelly fish, and more. When we go kayaking, I give the boys binoculars and tell them to keep an eye out for wildlife. We often see osprey, sparrows, cranes, and all kinds of birds. I tell them that they are being like Wild Kratts.

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