Pygmy Shrews, H2O and Snap Circuits

The lure of science experiments is something that for some reason, I cannot resist.   I have visions of us creating these amazing things, of the kids being enthralled and wanting to know ‘how does that happen?’.  So every now and then, I get sucked in to buying a science kit, or in this case a complete basics Physics and Chemistry ‘curriculum’.   Yes, I know, it flies in the face of unschooling, but I thought I’d just leave it lying around (strewing, as Sandra Dodd calls it) and one day Maya or Ben would say, “Hey, can we do this?” and the rest would be history.
The strewing part worked.   A box of stuff that looks like you get to mix it up?  Maybe something will explode?  Count us in!   And then, of course, ‘school mind’  kicked in and I thought, “Well, we should really do the experiments in order…”   The kids were still game as we sat down to read about pygmy shrews.   Pygmy shrews, as you might imagine from their name,  are really small, but not as small as ladybugs.  Ladybugs are smaller than pygmy shrews, but not as small as protozoa.   Protozoa (both paramecia and amoeba) are smaller than ladybugs.  But not as small as bacteria, who are not as small as water molecules, who are made up of even smaller atoms….    It was at this point that Ben began to make snoring noises.   And though I was doing my best “Hey, isn’t this exciting?!” reading voice, I was right there with him.   Fast forward – enough of the book – to the molecule building kit!   Wow, round balls that you stick plastic things into and make models of H2O, or CO2!   After a few minutes Maya held up what she’d done.   “See, it’s a dog!”  So much for our revelatory morning of science.
Does this mean my kids will never be interested in science?  In atoms and protons and neutrons?   Maybe.  I’m certainly not interested in those things, and if you gave me a quiz on it today, I’d fail miserably even though we JUST READ ABOUT IT in the pygmy shrew book.   Confession:  I had to go get the book to remember the order of things for the paragraph above.
It also might mean they are just not interested in it right now.  This set of experiments, which I will still leave out for independent exploration, in whatever order and whatever form that may take, says it’s for Grades 1-3.   Maya is officially in Grade 5.   Who says that 6 year olds need to learn about atoms?  Or 10 year olds?  If they want to then great.   If they don’t, move on.
A perfect example of this is Snap Circuits.   Snap Circuits is an ingenious electronics kit.  It literally uses pieces that snap together to make various projects.  A light, a fan, an alarm.  Maya got a set two years ago for Christmas.  It does over 500 different things.   The box states that it is for ages 8 and up.  It’s been sitting around our house for over a year untouched.  (We did a few of the projects together in the beginning, but interest quickly waned.)   About a week ago, Ben got it out of his own accord.  He asked me to help, but I couldn’t at that moment.  I think I was making dinner or something.  A few minutes later he came over and said, “Look what I did!”  He’d opened the manual and built one of the first projects on his own.   The light was flashing on and off just as it was supposed to.   “Cool, Ben!”  was my response.  Since then, Snap Circuits has found a permanent place in our living room, and Ben has put together fans that move at different speeds, alarms that ring louder when the leads are in water, light and fan combos, etc.   He loves it.  He’s also begun experimenting to see what happens when he changes the circuit so that it doesn’t match the diagram.  Sometimes it still works, other times it doesn’t.
This is the beauty of life learning.   All those ‘rules’ about when a child should learn something are thrown out.  Learning happens when there is interest and motivation.    We can laugh at our miserable attempts at science projects, because it doesn’t matter.  No one is grading us on it.   At some point, Ben will probably dig out the science box and start doing the experiments on his own or together with Maya, and then it will be fun.    My vision of the kids doing great science experiments at our table might or might not come true, but if it does, it will be on no-one’s timetable but their own.

About Amy

Amy Milstein was born and raised on a farm in Indiana, but after 20+ years considers herself a full-fledged New Yorker. She is married with two kids, who do not go to school but are instead life learners. This means they learn by living in the world (real life ) instead of hearing about it and simulating it in a classroom. With her family, Amy loves to travel, read, watch movies, write, sew, knit - the list is endless.
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