The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Health & Family

May 30, 2013

Sarah Coyne: Be part of childrens' learning

JOPLIN, Mo. — Motherhood has led me to develop many new habits. Some are neither exciting nor admirable, such as a tendency to hide chocolate in my sock drawer.

One habit I've become quite fond of, though, is the natural inquisitiveness and wonderment my kids have lent to my days.

Last week, we discovered turtles. One came from the woods, another from the yard and another was rescued from the road. Just like that, our morning's agenda was set.

The turtles were fully inspected. They were set free, tracked and reclaimed, all while I barked orders about not turning the poor things upside down.

The kids were focused completely on the technical science of discovery. What colors were on the turtles' skin? Why did their feet look so funny? What could we try to feed them? Could we keep them as pets?

The questions crawled and spilled over the grass right alongside the turtles, and then I knew it: We had some learning to do.

Unlike many adults, children still have a wisp of excitement in their hearts when it comes to learning about things that interest them. That morning, my 7-year-old was in her nightgown, legs crossed on the grass, peering at the baby turtle's mad dash through the garden.

"Whoa! The baby just ate three slugs in a row, mom! I thought they would eat grass or something!" She was so interested and curious in that moment, so I joined in.

"I never would have guessed slugs," I said, shuddering with disgust. "I wonder what else they eat. We should go look for some answers."

My daughter nodded seriously. "Yeah," she said. "I've just got to know more about these turtles."

So, we made an appointment with Professor Google. We learned how to tell the difference between Missouri's two species of box turtles, and why they're called box turtles in the first place.

We found out why it's not a good idea to keep turtles as pets and about all the varieties of wild food they need to survive. We searched for images of some of this area's more monstrous-looking reptiles, which led us on wild, imaginary adventures.

If quantified, we probably covered science, math, reading, art and geography, not to mention the more nebulous ideas of imagination and compassion. My children were learning, and they had initiated it by their own questions.

If we can foster this sense of wonder, give our kids the tools to find answers to their questions and join in their discoveries, we'll be encouraging a lifelong quest for knowledge in our kids. By understanding their opportunities of inquisitiveness as opportunities for learning, we can lead them in the direction of knowledge without them even realizing it.

Next time the kids are questioning nature, history or the news, head to the computer. Check out some books at the library. Find a museum. Encourage them to devour their world with hungry, curious minds.

As long as your children aren't trying to discover the mysterious hiding place for your emergency chocolate, the gates for learning will always be open to them.

Sarah Coyne lives in Joplin. She writes about life and motherhood at her personal blog, http://thisheavenlylife.blog spot.com.

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