You can teach a student a lesson for a day; but if you can teach him to learn by creating curiosity, he will continue the learning process as long as he lives. ~Clay P. Bedford
On Saturday afternoon I attended CuriOdyssey’s Annual Volunteer Appreciation Celebration; I was attending as my older son’s “plus one.”
CuriOdyssey is a local non-profit science museum and zoo where kids can observe animals, experiment with scientific phenomena and let the natural world answer their questions. Their philosophy is “They think. They’re playing.”
Our family has had an affinity for CuriOdyssey for nearly 20 years. I took my sons, as babies and toddlers, to the museum several times a month to see Sierra, the coyote and Bella, the California River Otter, and to experience the various hands-on exhibits. I often met up with friends, occasionally my husband would go, and there were many times I ventured there solo with my boys in tow. It was the perfect spot for active boys who liked to run, explore and touch things.
In 2008, when my older son was five and a half, I signed him up for three weeks of summer camp at CuriOdyssey. That first summer, we were instructed to only bring water in refillable bottles, and pack “smart” lunch boxes: all food in reusable containers; plastic bags, juice boxes, and water bottles were not allowed.
My son showed me a display of what plastic bottles do to the environment. “This is why we shouldn’t buy water in plastic bottles, Mom. Look at all the chemicals!” he said, pointing to the display in the museum. The practice of “smart” lunch boxes has been SOP in our house since that first year.
After those three weeks of camp, my son set his goals on becoming a Leader in Training (LIT), and each year he attended the camp, he reaffirmed his goal. “I’m training to be a Leader in Training,” he used to say, resulting in chuckles from the camp leaders.
The following summer, I signed him up for four weeks of camp. That was the summer he learned how to compost. He came home excited about worms and composting.
“Let’s start a worm bin!” he exclaimed and over the course of a few weeks, we did. Our worm bin is still active and thriving. For seven years, I loaded up the worm bin and drove it over to the kid’s elementary school on Earth Day. I loved sharing my knowledge of work composting with the kids in Kindergarten all the way up to fifth grade. I became known as “The Worm Lady.”
My younger son started attending summer camp in 2012 when he was six. He too came home happy and excited about what he had learned at camp.
One of his favorite camps was Gadgets and Gizmos – physical science, engineering, and building. When my younger son was six, he explained how a fulcrum worked (“It’s like a see-saw, Mom!”) and described how the incline elevator at Shadowbrook restaurant operated. He asked for Newton’s cradle for his 7th birthday – “Mom, did you know that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction? That’s Newton’s third law.” I had to confess: I didn’t remember learning that in school.
The camps used things people no longer needed: old CD’s, toilet paper rolls, cereal boxes, and string. They re-purposed a variety of household items to create something new and exciting. I brought in egg cartons, newspapers, and wrapping paper tubes to add to their collection of materials; I became efficient at re-purposing and reusing.
Over the years, the museum was a playground for their imagination, creativity, and desire to learn. They took joy in knowing the names of the animals – Charuka, the raven, Stan, the vulture, Wolfgang, the Blue Tongued Skink – and were upset when Sierra and Bella passed away. The museum, whether visiting on the weekend or being at camp – felt like a second home to them.
In 2015, after seven years as a camper, my older son applied for and was accepted, into the LIT program, finally, he would have the opportunity to wear a LIT shirt, name badge, and be revered by the young children in the summer camp. At the end of his first summer, he received feedback on his performance and suggestions for growth. He continued in the LIT program again in 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019, each year, honing his leadership skills and learning useful life skills.
As if being a LIT wasn’t enough, he participated in a two-week internship crafting educational solutions regarding trash, recycling, and compost. His team was tasked with researching and designing methods for changing human behavior, looking at the choice’s visitors make when disposing of waste. Ultimately their goal was to reduce overall waste and waste stream contamination. My son learned the fine art of scheduling meetings, research, and getting his hands dirty during his internship.
Six months later, he chose CuriOdyssey for his Eagle Scout project, building a large cabinet system to organize and store materials for “Zoo” camps. As a camper, and later as a LIT, Junior Keepers and Zoo U had been his favorite camps.
Both my boys excel at math and science, have a proclivity for learning, and are curious. My older son has transitioned from camper to LIT and is now working toward a Leader role. Seeing what his brother has gained from his experience as a LIT, after eight years as a camper, my younger son is now in the process of applying to the LIT program.
Who knew that regular visits and years of summer camp would result in an incredible opportunity for them to learn and appreciate science, nature, and the environment – without sitting in a classroom. My boys have shown me that curiosity is an important ingredient of the process of learning at every age.