Saturday, July 26, 2008

Ants, Elk Poop and the Milky Way: Take Advantage of Teachable Moments

The wood I was splitting yesterday had an "ant farm" in one piece. I split the piece open and little red ants came crawling out. There were 100's of eggs. I pulled my son and our 7 year-old niece who is staying with us for a couple of weeks over to look.
"I see an ant carrying an egg!" said my son excitedly.
"The large ants with the fat bodies are queen ants I think..." I explained.
"I see one!" said my niece.
I decided to stop the chore I was doing and take advantage of the opportunity. I thought, "Wouldn't this be a great opportunity to see the ant world up close?" I ran in the house and got out our son's little microscope and slides. I laid the box down and got out the tweezers and a catching jar. We got an egg-carrying ant and put him in a magnifying dish. The kids watched him carry the egg up close. We then put the ant on a slide under a clear vinyl cover while alive and they looked at his body. The most exciting part were the pinchers up close on the mouth moving up and down. "Can I see?" one would ask, then, "May I see too?" the other would ask. I would center the subject on the scope and tell the kids what they were going to see. They were beside themselves with anticipation.
We left the ant to go and look at the egg. I accidently squished an end - but this proved to be a good thing because the little ant growing inside hung out of the casing. With the microscope you could see its' body and legs, all clear and white-like. "It's all white!" They were amazed.
The kids' curiosity was sparked. They began to look for other small things to view. A dried up butterfly wing, a cricket. a gnat or little mosquito-type bug, all were stuck under the scope.
We took the scope inside and they spent time looking for things to see, re-adjusting slides for different views.

Last night we slept on our mountain. My niece doesn't spend much time in the woods and we have over 50 acres of mountain woods as our backyard and behind that it is National Forest. We hiked on a trail and I explained that we were on a game trail that deer and elk made. "There is elk poop, look out!" my son yelled. His cousin dodged the little black piles. Later, returning to the camp site, she didn't know where to go.
"Can you see where we smashed the grass down walking?" I asked.
"No" she said.
"Did you look around while we walked to look for things you recognize, or did you just follow me and not pay attention?" I asked.
"I just followed you." she replied.
"Well, if you learn to walk and keep your eye out for special trees, a meadow, a hill, a big boulder or a trail," I replied, "you have clues to help you get back where you started if you get lost."
We built a fire from little twigs - no newspaper - and got it to grow to a nice little fire. My son has learned that it takes two logs or sticks to keep a fire going and he was explaining that to his cousin while they got wood.

We were out looking at the stars later after another night of BBQ "shish-ka-bombs" in a clearing and it was so clear you could see the Milky Way like a misty swirl sweeping across the sky.
"See that misty fog-like stuff in the stars? That is the Milky Way. It is a galaxy full of stars" I said.
"The sky is so crowded tonight" said my niece.
We found the Big Dipper and looked at other constellations, although I need a planosphere to locate them and I had left mine at the house.
The day had been one of discovery. I too often allow my day to fly by and I ignore these simple, yet incredibly magnificent pieces of nature. Having a 6 and a 7 year-old with me allowed me to see the awe and beauty in our world all over again. I guess that is why I love children and education.

All the best to you!


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