The Stuff of Legend

Before I moved to the Twin Cities, I heard about Minnehaha Falls through friends.  They described it as a giant waterfall in the middle of the city, and I had a weird image in my head of an oasis-like park surrounded by skyscrapers.

That’s not quite accurate, but it is kind of an oasis from city life where Twin Citians can feel like they are exploring nature without having to go very far.

After almost eight years here, I’ve been many times, but it was only as we explored this past weekend that I really wondered about the park’s history.

It all started with a poem written by a man who’d never even seen the falls, but he still managed to make people curious about a far off land with wondrous waterfalls and fascinating cultures.  It so happens that Longfellow wasn’t terribly accurate in his portrayal of the Ojibwa, but it’s all part of the story now.  We are still sorting fact from lore around here.  Did you know that “Minnehaha” does not actually mean “laughing water”?

This slideshow from the Minnesota Historical Society has a century’s worth of photos from Minnehaha Park.

For us, last weekend was the perfect time to explore our park.  We climbed stairs, crossed bridges, left the path, and waded into the water.  Just the right amount of nature for this city girl.

 

Finding Magic & Wonder

The blog’s been quiet this week, I know.  I’ve been reading as usual, and I’ve been thinking about what I’ve read recently.  The Magic of Reality, in particular (which I blogged about here).  My daughter is too young yet for the book (aimed at teens and non-science-oriented adults), but she isn’t too young to start encouraging a sense of wonder at science and nature.

I’ve been immersed in science picture books for a work project recently, and wonder seems to be a theme this season.  At least that’s what I see in books like A Leaf Can Be… and Step Gently Out.  Both of these books use art and poetry to introduce the subject while creating a sense of awe, and they both offer more details in the back matter.

These are the sorts of books that I love to share with my daughter because they don’t really end when you finish reading the book.  The best part is what happens after you read them.  Maybe they’ll show up in a Picture Book Preschool post some time soon because they really do seem made for inspiring young science projects or at least a closer look.  It is so exciting to see my preschooler notice nature in a new way or make connections she hadn’t before because of what we’ve read.

How do you encourage a sense of wonder in your children?

 

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For more about science for kids, see my Secular Thursday page.

The Poetry of Science (Books for Secular Families)

The Tree That Time Build: A Celebration of Nature, Science, and Imagination is one of my favorite poetry collections for young people.  From the book:

“Both poets and scientists wonder at and about the world.  Out of that wonder, scientists devise experiments to see whether they can verify what they think might be true, while poets craft language to examine and communicate their insights.”

I must admit that I am more of a poet than a scientist, so the poems in this collection are the perfect way for me to connect with science in a way that reinforces the idea that wonder doesn’t go away with explanation.  The poems are organized thematically to cover our origins, dinosaurs, plants life, animals, insects, and genetics.  The accompanying CD  includes many of the poems being read by the poets.  The book & CD would make a great gift for a family with an interest in nature.  Perhaps pair it with a tree planted in their name or other gift from the Arbor Day Foundation store.

This book will be a family treasure and a classroom favorite.

See more posts about science, religion, and secular family life on my Secular Thursday page.

Disclosure: Amazon Links are affiliate links.

Finding a World Greater Than Ourselves

“I take of my hat on the walk

down to the park

because it feels like a church

and I want to feel

connected to the sky, and I realize

it is a church–

it contains my religion:

the trees, the birds, the air so smooth

into my lungs. This is my cross,

my prayers, my communion.

I take off my hat because the trees

tell me to. They say, you

walk in a greater world than yourself;

show respect to this powerful world which you

might leave at any time.”

 

This excerpt of a poem by Nicole Guenther is from the anthology Time You Let Me In: 25 Poets Under 25.  The anthology is full of youthful passion, but this thoughtful meditation on religion is the poem that stood out to me the most.  I am not an “outdoorsy” person by any stretch of the imagination.  I feel like a bit of a fraud acting as though I have this strong connection to nature when the closest I get to nature are my long, meditative walks during which I get all my great ideas and inspiration.  And even that doesn’t feel right to say–I’ve hardly made the time for such walks since Ladybug was born (she’s almost four now for those keeping score).  Perhaps that’s why I haven’t had as many great ideas lately….

In any case, I hope to experience a greater connection to the trees and the sky and to share this sort of “spirituality” with my daughter.

See more posts about science, religion, and secular family life on my Secular Thursday page.

Disclosure: Amazon Links are affiliate links.

Celebrating Questions

There’s a part of me that doesn’t want to write this post.  I am the parent of a three-year-old, which means an almost constant stream of “Why?” “What’s that?” or “What are you doing?”  I am not in the mood to celebrate questions.  I wish I had the patience of the mother elephant in Eve Bunting’s new picture book, Tweak Tweak, who has perfect answers at the ready for each of her little one’s seemingly endless questions about the world around them.

In my more patient moments, though, I really love my daughter’s inquisitive nature, and I want to encourage it.   Parenting Beyond Belief has this to say on questions:

“How we respond to the estimated 427,050 questions a child will ask between her second and fifth birthdays will surely have a greater impact on her orientation to the world outside her head than the thirteen years of school that follow.  Do we always respond with an answer–or sometimes with another question? . . . We have 427,050 chances to get it right, or 427, 050 chances to say ‘Because I said so,’  ‘ Because God says so,’ ‘Don’t concern yourself with that stuff,’ or something similarly fatal to the child’s ‘will to find out.’

I like Marcus Pfister’s newest book Questions, Questions to turn the table on my little one.  This lovely picture book appears simple at a glance.  Each spread has a brightly colored illustration and a rhyming couplet.  But if you look more closely, you will see that the illustrations have an interesting texture and often abstract connections to the text.  A brief author’s note provides more information on that.  The couplets are based on an Italian folksong.  Each asks a question about the natural world.  Some are more scientific; some are more fanciful.  Some might allow for faith, but all of them have the potential to open a discussion or, since no answers are contained in the book, inspire research or a science project.

But if you want to have some answers on hand, you might try Why?: The Best Ever Question and Answer Book About Nature, Science, and the World Around You by Catherine Ripley.  Everything a kid might ever wonder is here in this book answered simply in a double-page spread.  This book is spot-on for my three-year-old in terms of the questions and the answers.  I mean, “Why does it smell so good outside after it rains?” or “Why do I have to use the toilet and where does it go when I flush?” are probably not questions that most adults would spend much time on, but for preschoolers, they are strong points of interest.

Here’s to getting in the mood to celebrate questions and cultivating the patience to answer them. :)


More book recommendations about religion and science on the For Secular Families page.

On the Day You Were Born’s Lasting Connections

On the Day You Were BornMy heart is poetry, but my world is explained by science. I want my daughter to know that both are important in our family. There is no better book to show her how science and poetry can co-exist than Debra Frasier’s On the Day You Were Born.

OTDYWB is twenty years old this year, and it remains a favorite of many families and a popular baby shower gift. The text imagines a world in which the animals and the earth all celebrate the birth of a child, and along the way it introduces scientific ideas gently to even the youngest of readers/listeners.

My family owns the board book version, which ends with the birth of the baby, but the hardcover includes several pages of back matter that gives more information on the natural phenomena covered in the story/poem from gravity and tides to photosynthesis and more. There are so many possibilities with this book. It could be a poetic look at a baby’s birth or a jumping off point for a larger discussion about nature.

The poem really came alive for my preschooler as we watched it performed by the Heart of the Beast Pupper Theater at a local library recently. She was delighted at the baby spinning on the earth and the interactive elements of the show (water and confetti were splashed on the audience). I appreciated that the performers introduced the various unusual intruments they used (harmonica, zyls, slide whistle, etc) to the young audience at the end of the performance. They also talked about how they made the puppets with simple materials–cardboard, paper mache–so that kids could try to make similar creations themselves.

If you have the opportunity to see the performance, I highly recommend it. Or put on your own performance with these stage directions from the author’s web site. I also really like the idea of creating your own version of the book. What was happening in nature on the day your child was born? Was it day or night? What season was it? Look for opportunities to connect books (not to mention science, nature, and poetry) to your child’s personal experience.


More book recommendations about religion and science on the For Secular Families page.

Happy Spring!

“Is it still spring?” Ladybug asked as we bundled up in sweatshirts yeaterday. I tried to explain that spring is an in-between season that is sometimes warm and sometimes cold, but I’m not sure she believed me. Nonetheless, we have spent the past week or so celebrating spring in as many ways as we could find. It has been a long and snowy winter in Minnesota, and I am ready to celebrate that we are so much closer to the Minnesota summers I love so much.

As usual, we began our family celebration in books. Ladybug liked Mouse’s First Spring by Lauren Thompson. We have read several Mouse books now, and she likes the familiar character. The books are simple and colorful–perfect for preschoolers. I liked Mama, Is It Summer Yet by Nikki McClure for the unique illustrations. I also appreciated the long list of activities in It’s Spring by Linda Glaser. We’ve used these books to watch for signs of spring as we walk around our neighborhoods. It’s great to see Ladybug get excited about flowers blooming or at the sight of a robin.

We also joined in a family Easter Egg hunt with Ladybug’s cousins searching for colored eggs (some plastic with candy inside, some hard-boiled, decorated), which was fun. The kids got to gorge on candy, and the adults got to enjoy one another’s company. Just as we didn’t do Santa (See this post for more about that), we aren’t doing the Easter Bunny either. I explained to Ladybug that everyone was going to pretend that the Easter Bunny hid the eggs, and it would be fun to pretend. I’ve said before, we love pretending with her, but I’m not willing to pretend to her.  We focus our sense of wonder for Easter on nature.  The “magic” there isn’t going to go away.

We also attempted to color eggs for the first time. It was kind of a bust. They all look pink, but they were supposed to pink, purple, yellow, and blue. We’ll try again next year. Sorry, kid. Your mom’s a noob.

My favorite way to celebrate spring, though, is at the May Day Festival in Powderhorn Park. I just discovered this long-running festival last year, and I fell in love. It’s a celebration of art and peace in addition to the stories that have symbolized spring for so many years. The parade is a theatrical performance more than just a parade. We saw beauty and hope amidst pointed statements about our world all in the context of reflection as we move ahead. Yes, it was cold this year. But it was worth it to be one of so many coming together to celebrate so much.

Happy spring everyone!  Let’s make the most of it.

A name you should know

In honor of Women’s History Month, I posted on Books in Bloom about a few picture book biographies that feature little-known women who defied the women’s role of their day. One of these women in particular stood out to me: Maria Sibylla Merian. In the picture book biography, I got the basic gist of her life. She lived in the late 1600’s, and she chose to study and draw butterflies at a time when people generally believed that butterflies came from the devil. It was common at the time for women to draw or paint flowers, but Merian blended art and science. She was so fascinated by the process of metamorphosis that was not satisfied with Chrysalissuperstition. I was so fascinated that I went in search of more information. I learned that this woman, now all-but forgotten by history, has been referred to as the “Mother of Entomology.” She further defied cultural norms of her day by leaving her husband and traveling to Suriname as a ship’s naturalist. Kim Todd writes of Merian in Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis,

“The willpower needed to forge a path where none existed before must have been overwhelming. She gave a nod to expectations, but then sailed straight through them as though they were ripples and not tidal waves.”

This is exactly the sort of woman I want my daughter to know.

Look at some of Maria Merian’s art here. My fellow TCians can learn to create their own art in the style of Maria Merian at the Minnesota School of Botanical Art or be inspired by nature at the various gardens we have (The Marjorie McNeely Conservatory in St. Paul and the Florence Bakken Medicinal Garden at the Bakken Museum in Minneapolis to name just two).