Do you remember your “science” classes in school? What did you learn well enough to carry with you for the rest of your life? Think about that. What really stuck?
The textbooks you read? The worksheets you filled out? The films you watched? The rock samples in kits that you scratched at and recorded your observations (one of the few things I remember)?
How about the field trips you went on? And I’m don’t mean the ones where you went to Science World or the Planetarium, and watched more films, or checked out displays. I mean the REAL trips out into the FIELD. The ones where you got down on your hands and knees and got nose-to-nose with frogs, or slipped on the algae by the edge of the pond, and fell in among the tadpoles and water bugs?
What? You don’t remember those? Well, me neither. We went to the Summerland Experimental Farm when I was in grade 7 – my first and last “field trip” in my public school career – and we saw a cow with a murky glass window in its side through which one could see some of the inner workings of the poor creature. I do remember that! And they gave each of us an apple from their famous orchards.
The rest of my scientific studies took place in the classroom. Even though we had more-or-less-hands-on lab experiments from time to time, mostly we learned second-hand, from books and pictures and films and such. Now admittedly, that was back in the day (the Experimental Farm trip was in the 1967-68 school year), and yes, schools do provide a few more off-site studies now than in the past. Off-site oftener, but sadly, still not so often in the field.
The reason I bring this up is that within our city limits, within easy walking distance of every single school, there are numerous opportunities for rich, engrossing, life-long-memory-forming science learning experiences, in many aspects of the natural sciences. The snapshots in this post are from an oxbow of the Okanagan River. This particular oxbow is within a 5 to 10 minute walk of a local elementary school. The oxbow was cut off from the river when the “channel” was put in, and so the natural vegetation of our semi-desert region has grown in a wild tangle around the remaining still water. Look closely and you will see an amazing variety of plant life, in a close-knit ecosystem that supports not only the vegetation but also all kinds of wildlife, as the beaver-cut stump demonstrates.
Yes, there are in our valley neat board-walk tours, complete with informative signs and sometimes even a tour guide, that allow a civilized walk through our natural ecosystems. And yes, the children will arrive home from their science field-trip still neat and tidy, and will obediently write a follow-up assignment about what they saw. But will they come home awestruck? Will they get their hands dirty? Will they remember the experience a year from now? A lifetime from now?
Don’t leave your children’s scientific learning up to the schools. They have to follow so many rules and regulations that they simply cannot provide real hands-on scientific exploration. But you can do that for your children, and basically for free. Next time you want to do something with your family, gather together some basic equipment – perhaps a pail, a strainer, a magnifying glass, a box to collect small samples, a camera, a notebook and colored pencils for sketching and notes. Dress well enough to avoid being scratched by thistles and such. Then take a walk through your neighbourhood.
Leave the paved sidewalks and investigate that scrubby looking area at the end of the street. Go down beside the creek instead of viewing it from the dainty bridge above. Go together. Look closely. Get your hands wet. Get mud on the knees and the seat of your pants. Get scruffy stuff in your hair. Respect nature, yes, but also get to know it close up. When you’re tired, sit awhile in the shade, right in the midst of the tangle, and just take it in, quietly. Make some sketches. Collect a few samples (respectfully). Go home, then, making a stop at the library on the way to get books that identify the wildlife and birds and insects and vegetation you’ve just seen and interacted with. Talk about them together as a family. And make plans for your next outing. Soon. Tomorrow perhaps.
Grow family relationships. Create memories. Encourage curiosity. Experience true learning: learning that changes attitudes and behavior long-term. Become life-long learners, together.
(For a sample of some of the outdoors learning we did together as a family when my children were still at home, when we lived on Haida Gwaii, check out some of our Nature Notebook adventures and observations. And I’m delighted to be able to report that my children now take their children out into nature, too!)