The other day I was teaching a lesson on one of the Biological Kingdoms. As part of the lessons I conducted a lab lesson about microscopic organisms that live nearby. I brought water from a freshwater pond and from the Laguna Madre. The Laguna Madre is one of only five hypersaline lagoons in the world. It is a unique ecosystem and none of my students live more than 10 or 12 miles from it.

As I was describing  where I got the water samples I regularly had students blurt: “where is the Laguna Madre?” I would try to tell them and even then many of them didn’t know where it was. The most effective description was to use, as landmark, a local seafood restaurant.

It is tempting to lament the situation but the alternative is to address it. How? Attend to your area. It is easy for us adults to take our knowledge for granted. We drive to the local seafood restaurant without engaging the kids. We are listening to our music. They are tuned into their iPods, DVDs, or texting. We don’t talk to them about what is going on outside. To us it is common place. They are preoccupied with their affairs. The advantage of living in a pre-digital world is that we had nothing to do but look out windows. We asked questions. Now kids don’t. At least not always.

So, attend to your area.

  • Parents–point out what is going on outside the car. This is especially effective for the young ones because they are still looking and wondering.
  • Be Aware, Be excited. Over the simple things. The pelicans flying barely 6 inches above the water in a wingtip to wingtip formation that would put the Blue Angels to shame. (Or whatever is relevant to your area) There is more going on than we would expect if we would only just look.
  • Play “out the window” games. “I spy” or finding things that match the letters of the alphabet.
  • Teachers, make your lessons relevant to the area. Incorporate elements from the local area in your lesson design. One pre-school teacher I know used a map and local landmarks like the bay, the Laguna, and other things to teach cardinal directions.
  • Go for walks with your kids. My friends’ two year old can’t get enough outside. He is lucky, neither can his parents. I have great hopes for him.

I think it is sad that my students didn’t know where the Laguna Madre was. The cool thing was that most of them loved seeing the stuff in the microscope. They were excited to see that tiny little world. Even when they were grossed out.

It is a beginning.

What’s in your neighborhood that your kids don’t know about? What do you do to engage them?