Wednesday, July 27, 2011

What's Out There in the Dark?

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

What's Out There in the Dark?

If it is true that all great thinkers, scientists, academicians, theologians, and philosophers have based their revelations on observation, then it can be concluded that parents should give their children many opportunities to develop their own powers of observation. In fact, it may be a skill that is being damaged by modern life in many ways.

When the family goes on a trip, kids’ viewing of DVD’s is the accepted practice for keeping them occupied during the journey. Even walking down the street involves constant attention to a cell phone instead of looking at people.

As a 40 year teacher, I can tell you that the best students have finely tuned observation skills. They have studied people, the natural world, world events, and have drawn first hand conclusions about many things. When they express themselves in writing and speaking, it is evident that they are capable of forming their own conclusions. In the disciplines of science and math, the ability to observe with attention to detail is critical for success. Problem solving in all areas requires keen observation.

How can parents help their children to expand this ability to its maximum potential? Primarily, providing the time and opportunity to have practice observing and then verbalizing their findings is key in the development of this critical skill. The first step is to stop the multitasking train and focus on your surroundings.

On an evening when the moon is full and the sky is clear, take your children outside to exercise their five senses. First, allow your eyes to adjust to the dark, and then start trying to make out specific objects.

Ask the children questions. What animals can you see? Are there any plants that you recognize? Is there enough light so that you can recognize each other? Are there any movements that you can distinguish? Walk away from each other. How far can you get before you can’t see each other at all? Turn your attention to the sky and study the moon ant its shadows. Is there a silver lining behind every cloud? Is there a difference in the brightness of the stars?

What do you hear? Bugs? Owls and other night birds? Frogs? Bats? Are you near water? Can you hear animals splashing? How do the sounds you hear at night differ from what you hear in the day? Can you hear the wind? Try your other senses—smell, touch. Make a conscious effort to focus on one at a time.

Help you child research the difference between nocturnal animals and creatures that move about in the daytime. Have them draw conclusions about what they find-out. Discuss why some people are afraid of the dark. Ask if their outdoor experience changed their feelings about the dark.

Children can often answer their own questions, if they have developed the patience and skill to carefully observe their world, even in the dark.
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