Monday, February 07, 2005

James wrestles daily with muons and beams and signal-to-noise ratios and other arcana that I, who got a courtesy D- in high school chemistry, cannot comprehend. My scientific talents are observing and enjoying nature, and I can perform very simple experiments. James's parents blessed us with a good microscope, and we put it to use again recently, making and observing crystals.

It helps to read the directions before starting. I'd forgotten that today's experiment in water density required a turkey baster to deliver the salt water with red food coloring to the bottom of the container full of blue ice water. A soda straw worked ok, but boy! does water saturated with pickling salt taste bad.

I tend to save the experiments for when #2 son is home to observe along with #3 daughter, who's our only home schooler this year.#2 son is our inventor. He doesn't care much for plants and animals, but he can hardly wait for me to start teaching electricity. I also like having one of the older daughters around when I'm explaining science. They enjoy chemistry, and can explain concepts when I get lost. They both benefitted from a year of "Doc", the premier science teacher at our high school.

The best science unit we ever had in home school was light, which the older girls and I did with the neighbor kids. James got a set of old chipped prisms that the physics dept discarded--a dozen different shapes to play with--and some old mirrors from a dismantled bubble chamber. We blocked up the basement windows and had light shows, scattering light with the prisms, covering the flashlights with colored cellophane, scrounging every mirror we could to bounce light all over the room.

We also did motion and acceleration experiments in the front yard, again with the neighbor kids. The Chief Buttinski across the street kept peering out her window at us, wondering why we were running up and down the hill, running balloon rockets on a string between the trees, and running little cars down ramps in the middle of the afternoon.

I know just enough about nature to really enjoy it. Much of this comes courtesy of my dad, who can tell you the natural history of the rock you stand on, what macro- and microscopic life live in it, and what will and will not grow in the soil. He taught me to pick up snakes safely when I was a kid. I remember catching a corn snake at camp one year. We also got up one Easter morning at dawn and went out onto somebody else's property to dig up pink violets, otherwise doomed to be bulldozed the next morning.

Several of my cousins tell me how much they learned to appreciate Dad's dragging them o'er ditches and mires to look at wildlife in creeks now culverted and farms long since bulldozed. One of my cousins earns his living as one of the world's leading experts on water hyacinths as pollution control devices.

Dad's enthusiasm for nature carries over to our kids. #1 Son loves birds, so his grandfather favored him with a long list of bird sighting stories. When Aspergers people get a new fad, they go at it wholeheartedly. We have three bird feeders in a small yard, and the fattest and most vociferous chickadees in Wisconsin. I've learned a lot from #1 son's enthusiasms, and I get just as excited about a new bird as he does, to the great annoyance of #2 daughter, who is kibitzing on this writing. I found myself enthusiastically calling a friend to tell her that she had a huge bird of prey of some kind in her tree, white like a snowy owl but enormous.

I enjoyed #1 son's bird fad a little more when he was concentrating on penguins; then, I didn't have to listen to bird call CDs. #1 daughter, who now speaks the patois of role playing games, says that penguins, along with fuzzy slippers, add +1 humor to every situatuation. Penguins are proof that God has a sense of humor. So are walruses, platypuses, and children.--mrs james

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