a peek inside the fishbowl

27 Feb, 2006

The physics of fun

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Easy ways to make kids happy|Misc. life

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned as a parent is how to deal with The Museum Experience. The museum is a fantastic place to go with children, and we’re fortunate there are so many different museums and galleries here in Ottawa to choose from.

How long have we had children know who can walk and talk ? we’ve been doing the museum thing for YEARS. And it really just recently dawned on me that I have a tendency to run out of patience in these kinds of places.

It’s something I can practically visualize. My brain is like an hour glass. My patience is the sand. On a good day it disappears slowly, grain by grain through the tiny opening. When we’re at the museum it’s as if a hole has been blasted through the bottom and the sand spills out as soon as we cross the threshold.

And it’s not just a coincidence, or anything I can chalk up to a lack of caffeine or iron deficiency. Big spaces + short attention spans don’t always add up to a good time had by all.

And here’s why.

Mark and I (ok, it’s mostly MARK because he’s the bigger informavore of us two) used to insist on the educational component no matter where we were. And this, my friends, was a big mistake. And we replayed the same mistake almost every time. Take this fictional/representative scenario:

The four of us are standing in front of an exhibit about passenger pigeons.

Mark: “Girls, do you know what these are?”
The girls: “Birds!”
Mark: “Yes, they’re passenger pigeons? and did you know that they’re extinct because?”
Emma: [eyes glaze over]
Sarah: “Can I have a snack now?”
Mark: “? they were overhunted. The young squabs were regarded as a great delicacy and the adults were sought after for their feathers as well as their meat?”
Emma: [runs off to the next exhibit]
Sarah: [roots through my purse]
Mark: ????
Andrea: “How can our offspring not give a flying fig about the plight of the passenger pigeon? WHY ARE WE HERE?”

We went to the Aviation museum Sunday before last, where I witnessed a woman explaining the physics of flight to her five-year old son. In French. And he was stock still. Listening as attentively as a lion stalking a herd of gazelles.

Crap. I caught myself wishing that my kids could just stop and listen and be interested in the wealth of knowledge that is being offered to them. But then I came to my senses. We can’t all have kids that are this spongelike in their absorption of things around them. And to be realistic, not all kids can be interested in everything. Some kids can spend an hour staring down into a construction site while others do needlepoint or spend hours absorbed in drawing their own comic books.

So that Sunday Mark and I put our new Museum Coping Technique to the test, wherein we guide and direct the route, they run around, and when they stop we dish out the one best tidbit of info and leave it at that. If they ask questions, well, that’s just a bonus. If not, fine, but I pledged that we weren’t going to force feed them everything that’s written on each little placard we passed, no matter HOW interesting it seemed to us.

Our ultimate goal here was to (a) encourage their own independent interests (b) make it a positive experience for everyone and (c) make it easier for us.

And it worked. The tidbits we offered were small and digestible, and entirely palatable. I realize now that I came to expect big impact, an earthquake of knowledge every time we went. What we got instead were smaller and quieter little tremors, and perhaps more meaningful.

– is this the plane Papa flew on?
– is this what Papa wore when he flew?
– if Papa didn’t fly with the pilot they’d all get LOST!

The physics will come later. And when it does we’ll have to invite someone with a better grasp of math and science to explain it to all of us. But in the meantime, I’m just happy to be having fun again.

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The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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