Thursday, August 28, 2014

Fostering the Gift of Curiosity

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover: Visitor Services Manager

You can see it in their eyes.  It sparkles and lights up their faces.  It’s curiosity, and it must be cultivated and nurtured, or it will die. 
            Eleanor Roosevelt said, “…at a child’s birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift would be curiosity.”  Curiosity might be the mother of invention, but it is also the mother of learning.
            Some children seem to lose some of their drive to learn and explore as they approach the middle school years, and teachers and parents become anxious to get back that childhood enthusiasm for learning.  Where did it go?
            Many books have been written, teaching techniques explored, and countless hours of research spent in the quest for the answer to what keeps the desire for learning at its peak. 
Of course, there is no simple answer, but after many years of teaching, I believe that parents and teachers must continuously act as facilitators for learning.  They should be relentless in their efforts to follow the interests that the child expresses and to provide materials and experiences in those particular areas of interest.
 A child is his or her own best teacher.
 Childhood is full of opportunities for exploration through toys, games, books, movies, television, and countless child centered activities.  Places like the Museum of The Albemarle, Arts of the Albemarle, and Port Discover are settings where kids can experiment and find their personal interests.
 For all of the criticism directed at media, they also provide many golden sparks for kids’ curiosity.   Finding Nemo, the Ice Age series, Madagascar series, Wall-E, Lorax, Rio, Bambi, and 2001, A Space Odyssey all cause kids to wonder about the world of science. 
Although the science is not always the most accurate in such programs as Sponge Bob and other cartoons, they still might cause the child to ask questions and become interested.  
That’s when the parent can seize the opportunity to acquire books, magazines, and materials from the library, take the child on a field to a museum or science program, or just probe for questions that the child might be wondering about and try to answer them.
One avenue that can be helpful is keeping up with current science events.  Just this summer there have been so many topics to explore like global warming, drought, flooding, space exploration, archeological discovery, and the list goes on and on. 
  One of my newest discoveries is  which is a treasure house of free online videos, lessons, quizzes, games, and puzzles for kids, teachers, and parents.  Organizations such as the British Broadcasting Company offer documentaries on a variety of topics such as prehistoric America, dinosaurs, and the Ice Age.  
Remember that a child’s first question is usually “Why?”  As their first teacher, you can easily become equipped with all that you need.  You will probably learn something together, and that’s the fun of it.  


Monday, August 11, 2014

Summer's Love Bugs

Summer's Love Bugs
By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover: Visitor Services Manager
Just the mention of the word “bug” makes most people start scratching.  However, there are insects that people, especially kids, love.   For grown-ups, they bring back nostalgic memories of summers during their childhood.  Who doesn’t remember the glass jar at the foot of the bed with those sparkling, enchanting lightning bugs flickering off and on?
            Actually, lightning bugs aren’t bugs at all.   They are part of the beetle family.  While they appear all over the world, various cultures have attached myths to these magical creatures.

            Aztecs thought they brought a spark of knowledge in a time of ignorance and darkness.  Europeans believed that a person would die if a firefly flew in the window.  Native Americans caught them and smeared them on their faces and chests as decoration.  
            Today, the firefly is the state insect of Pennsylvania and Tennessee.  They are used for medical research in the areas of cancer, multiple sclerosis, cystic fibrosis and heart disease.  Fireflies are truly beneficial and don’t bite, have no pincers, don’t attack, don’t carry disease, and are not poisonous.  Their larvae feed on the larvae of snails and slugs. 
            If you are really ambitious, you can become part of a lightning bug network and help with research.  The Museum of Science in Boston allows you to sign up and send them data about the lightning bugs you observe once a week in your back yard.
            So the big question is why do lightning bugs flash anyway?  As you might guess, they are trying to attract a mate.  The females perch close to the ground while the males fly around flashing, and then a dialogue soon begins.  Each species of lightning bug has a unique flash pattern.   
            Bioluminescence is the ability of a living organism to give off light which is referred to as “cold light” because no heat is present.  The firefly is the most common land animal that has bioluminescence, but certain types of worms, fungi and mushrooms also display light.    
            Fireflies are most often found around low, wooded areas that retain moisture like ponds and marshes.  Adults sometimes feed on pollen and nectar.  The female lays her eggs in the ground, and they hatch in about 4 weeks.
             If you want to try to attract the golden creatures, there are several things you can do.  Try to reduce the amount of light on your property so there will be no interference with the signals they are giving each other.  Instead, install lights that are low to the ground and point straight down.  Don’t use bug zappers or chemical pesticides.  You could enhance the moisture available by adding more birdbaths.  Allow for some tall grass in the yard where the males can rest during the day.
            Take your children and yourself back to a slower, more beautiful time and have a lightning bug night often.  The summer is short and so are childhoods.  If you want to learn even more about fireflies, go to and research with your children. 
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