There’s lately been an abundance of exciting times in our home! I suspect that those of you with your own young, evolving artists, scientists, and determined toddlers will relate. This week we put our family’s last toddler car seat into the garage and pulled out a big boy seat to replace it. The very same day, my three-year-old’s booster chair vacated its sticky place at our dining room table. In nearly nine years, this is first time the shiny blue chair has not had a place at our dining room table. The bittersweet icing on the cake was my middle son’s announcement of his first loose tooth.
I consider myself a fairly observant mom. I notice my kids getting taller, acquiring new information, becoming more adept socially; as a family we acknowledge the important transitions and milestones in each of their lives. But in the midst of the developments mentioned above, I failed to see other exciting changes brewing in my household—those of my 8-year-old son.
The days move forward at a rather dizzying pace in our homeschool. At any moment in time there are craft scissors to locate, books to order, board games to play, telescopes to get into focus and zany hypotheses to test. Oh and dinner. It’s important to make dinner! Consequently, I’m guilty of sometimes eliminating learning opportunities in an attempt to merely get the job done. I know my youngest son should be given the chance each day to match socks and put them away. I know my middle guy really must feed the cat, but he makes such a spectacular mess. Most days I resist this temptation to just do things myself. When I am at best, most rested self, my kids are included, and the tedious chores I want to just be done with are imbued with meaning and value.
What I wasn’t conscious of until this week, is just how often I step into Elias’s “laboratory,” inadvertently diminishing opportunities for growth. Since he was old enough to make messes, Elias has been a mad scientist in the kitchen taking over dessert-making with bizarre adaptations to the most standard of cookie recipes. Chemistry captured his heart from the beginning—test tubes, pouring, mixing, and observing the results was an enthralling experience and as his mother, a pure joy and privilege to witness. My husband and I have made a sport of finding Elias the best of the best in science writing for kids. This year a humble space in our homeschool room was designated as the lab space. It’s nothing fancy, but it is a place where tinkering and messes are definitely ok and even encouraged. Little brothers and guests are made aware that it is not a communal play space, and that the treasures on this table are of great importance and value.
In general, I like to think we have been mindful about providing an abundance of resources, time, and tools with which Elias can expand his skills. Elias has great materials, but rarely if ever has he operated like a true scientist truly in charge of the running and oversight of his beloved lab space. This week things changed!
One day each week the boys attend a wonderful alternative school in our community, which accommodates both homeschoolers and full-time students. Last week we received a note from Elias’s teacher, a fantastic guy named Leon. The students were making electroscopes on a day that Elias does not attend school, and Leon thought this was something we might like to try at home.
Electroscopes, I learned, are a tool used to detect the presence of electric charge in the body. This is a fantastic lesson idea that yields fun results. Elias and I agreed that Leon’s suggestion sounded like fun.
My son was charged with finding instructions online while I worked on a project in a different room. He soon shouted out to let me know he’d found proper instructions and asked me to get the supplies we needed. At that point I had my hands in something I couldn’t immediately put down. “Can you please figure out what materials you need and get them yourself?” I asked. In a moment’s time, he was in the kitchen gathering aluminum foil, a mason jar, lid, masking tape and cardboard. “I’m ready mom.” “Can you get started?” I asked. “I need to get logs for the fire.” Stepping over his brothers, who were engaged in an epic drawing project, Elias began to assemble his equipment.
Elias was soon well on his way cutting and adjusting materials—he was building his own electroscope! The instructions he’d chosen were indeed good ones. A succinct narrative was provided beneath clear pictures of each step. By the time I reached Elias he was deeply immersed in step 4. “Can we play lab, mom? I’ll be the scientist and you are my assistant. My lab is very posh and we work with posh materials.” I loved this idea and the merry chatter that this plan evoked. We worked together for a long time with Elias figuring out each step and directing everything that happened in his controlled space. In the end, the experiment worked perfectly. He beamed with pride.
When we’d finished and put away our equipment, we agreed to take a break before beginning our next activity. This gave me a second to clean up the spilt cat food and mull over what had just transpired. I try to mindfully carve out uninterrupted time for our science labs. Everyone has a snack before science begins. Phone calls are ignored. When Elias walks into his space, he knows exactly what he will be doing. His tools are neatly assembled by me and put in their proper place, and the information required is prepared and ready to be explored.
This week, mountains of household duties distracted me, and science time was the haphazard affair I’ve described. Instead, a little boy was left on his own with a computer and a stool to reach the high places he needed to access. With just these things he was able to acquire all of his own tools, conduct research, and make a very cool instrument. Like the booster seat that’s been put away, I see it is time to put away some habits in our homeschool. Without my noticing, my oldest son has been taking giant, breathtaking steps toward independence. His lab is just a microcosm of so many other things in his life; these are changes I’m reminded to be aware of.
If your young scientist would like to make an electroscope, Elias found this site helpful. http://www.instructables.com/id/how-to-make-an-electroscope-easily/
As your children grow, what sorts of changes have snuck up on you? How do you manage them? How do they change the way your family learns and plays together?
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