Knives, fire and fear at Yellowstone

Image result for yellowstone parkWaterfall at Yellowstone National Park

After observing his eight-year-old son’s anxious approach to trick-or-treating, Jonathan Last decided Cody needed a dash of adventure, he writes in Weekly Standard.

This summer, he took his son to Yellowstone “for a week of camping and communing with nature in all her brutal splendor.”

Neither a free-range nor a helicopter parent, he believes, Last sees himself as “a Predator-drone parent: always watching, but from a distance, often unseen, and able to call in close-air support as needed.”

He gave Cody a Swiss Army knife. He was entranced.

He stroked it, examined it, fidgeted with it. He picked through all seven of its tools, studying them individually, and then splayed them out at once like a peacock. He began inventing scenarios where he might use it: “If a tree falls on our campsite, I could use the saw to cut it apart,” he said. “And if a snake bites one of us, I could use the leather punch to drill another hole so we could suck out even more venom,” he said. “If a bear attacks us on a hike, I can use the knife to fight him,” he said. This last scenario burned so brightly in his imagination that he decided to keep the knife in a sheath on his belt. Just in case.

Even more than the knife, Cody loved the campfire.

He devises needlessly intricate methods of starting the fires. He burns everything he can find—paper towels, sticks, dried pine needles, bits of croissant. One night in Yellowstone he took the cardboard center from a roll of paper towels, stuffed it with pinecones and bits of newspaper, punctured air-holes in it with the corkscrew of his Swiss Army knife, and then dropped it in the fire. His face transformed into something resembling the ecstasy of St. Teresa.

Last told his son how to whittle, cutting away from the body, and how to douse embers of a fire, but tried not to hover.

Every day they hiked. One day, they heard a growl, which could have been a bear — or not. They pulled out their bear spray, listened to see where the growler was moving and hiked on.

After a few minutes, when we were clear, Cody looked up at me and said evenly, “Dad, that’s the most scared I’ve ever been in my entire life.”

And so I told him that fear is natural and that there’s nothing wrong with it. That anyone would be scared in a moment like that. But what’s important is that you put your fear to one side so that you can think clearly and do whatever needs to be done.

His son knows “about the fears that middle-class kids carry around these days — about making friends and fitting in and achieving whatever it is their parents hope for them,” writes Last. But until he came to Yellowstone, “he knew nothing about real fear.”

Mastering fear “used to come as a matter of routine to nearly every boy,” he writes. That was before middle-class parents “turned our country into one gigantic safe space.”

Pokémon Go: Is it more than a fad? 

Pokémon Go, which uses GPS  to send players in search of digital characters, has become wildly and popular.  My niece, who’s 17, showed me a photo she’d taken on her phone of a character she’d “found” in the park.

Cyrus Phan, 29, right, and Anthony Puah, are gamers that run a driving service Pika Speed, are photographed driving customer as he plays the game in down-town San Jose, Calif., on Wednesday, July 20, 2016. Pika Speed, which offers to drive Pokemon Go players around as they play the game Josie Lepe/Bay Area News Group)

Cyrus Phan, 29, right, and Anthony Puah, started Pika Speed to drive Pokemon Go players around San Jose. Photo: Josie Lepe/Bay Area News Group

It’s encouraging gamers to get outside and do a lot of walking, though a San Jose start-up will chauffeur players and the especially lazy can entrepreneurs will hire someone to play for them. (What’s the point? I don’t know.)

Educators dream of using the game to teach local history, mapping, math and literacy, writes Leo Doran in Education Week. “Commentators are weighing in on potential educational applications.”

The game is a “way to enchant the environment,” said James Gee, an Arizona State professor who’s studied gaming. “Every human would love to think that there are fairies running around and the environment is full of magic — that’s been a theme of literature and many cultures actually believe it. Now Pokémon comes out and actually does those things.”

Pikachu, the most popular character, has the power of static: It releases a burst of energy.

Pikachu, the most popular character, has the power of static: It releases a burst of energy.

Greg Toppo, author of The Game Believes in You, also looks at Pokémon  as an educational tool. “Teachers have been blogging about how they might use the game once school begins,” he writes in USA Today.

Matthew Farber, a Denville, N.J., middle school social studies teacher and author of Gamify Your Classroom, predicts teachers will use the game to get students to “explore and research important historic Poké Stops near their home or school,” writes Toppo.

Pokémon creatures lurk in “art museums and churches and historical places and parks,” game designer Kellian Adams-Pletcher told Toppo. Museums are “thrilled” by the prospect of drawing in new visitors.

Game designer Jane McGonigal noted that scientists are already taking advantage of the game’s millions of users, urging them to take photos of species of bugs, fish and animals that don’t look familiar.

“It’s a slippery slope from video games to citizen science,” she said.

When collecting Pokémon cards was a fad in the late 1990s, Gee called the game a brilliant literacy curriculum, writes Toppo. A generation learned to read “specialized, technical, cross-referenced text” and “analyze and classify more than 700 different types of creatures,” the professor pointed out.

Toppo writes: “Gee predicted, a bit cynically, that if we were to turn Pokémon into a school subject, ‘certain children, many of them poor, would all of a sudden have trouble learning Pokémon’.”

Using nature to nurture

The classroom is outdoors at The Alaska Forest School, reports Erin Kirkland in the Alaska Dispatch News.

Lia Keller asked preschoolers if they could “find the tunnel from last time” and they led the way to a downed cottonwood, where they could play “foxes and bears” in a pit under the root ball.

Leif Stanbury, 3, catches a snowflake.

Leif Stanbury, 3, catches a snowflake. Photo: Loren Holmes, ADN

“I am passionate about getting children outside,” said Keller, who founded the school. “Kids have to get out as young as possible so they learn how to explore and foster a deep love of nature and our wild places.

She also believes “children need more unstructured time” to learn from their play.

Keller offers parents three sessions a week.

Elliott and Harriet Levine, aged 4 and 8, climb under the eyes of mother Maria Levine. The school encourages kids to take "appropriate risks." Photo: Loren Holmes, ADN

Elliott and Harriet Levine, aged 4 and 8, climb under the eyes of mother Maria Levine. The school encourages kids to take “appropriate risks.” Photo: Loren Holmes, ADN

The forest school idea started in Europe, but has spread around the world. It seems like a perfect fit for Alaska, says Beka Land, whose daughters are five and three. “The natural consequences of exploring the outdoors and talking through choices is so valuable,” Land said. “As a family, we like the idea of an outdoors-centered program that lets kids pick their own path.”

After 30 minutes of “hollering, discovering and exploring,” the preschoolers were full of questions, writes Kirkland.

Why does snow look like crystals under the frame of a magnifying glass? What happens when you try to climb a tree much taller than your mom and way higher than any recess monitor would ever allow? How can five small kids figure out how to tie up a blue tarp without adult assistance?

Keller answered many questions with: “What do you think we should do?”

I saw the link on OneTree Alaska, a Facebook site set up by Jan Dawe, a University of Alaska botanist who was my best friend in elementary school. We were co-editors-in-chief of The Wednesday Report, which we published twice a month for four years.

A wonderful world

Kick your kids out of the house

Kick your kids out of the house, suggests Ed Driscoll on Instapundit.

In Nature Valley’s ad, grandparents and parents remember tobogganing, fishing, planting, building forts and just heading out to play with friends, notes Lenore Skenazy on Free-Range Kids. The kids love video games and texting.

In just one generation, it has become almost bizarre to see kids heading out to find fun on their own outside. That’s why people call 911 when the see a child in the park. It’s like spotting a tapir escaped from the zoo. Kudos to Nature Valley for encouraging kids to get outside!

But a commenter named Marcie observes a key difference. The parents and grandparents remember playing alone or with other kids. When the ad shows kids going outside, adults are present. “It pretty much says that outdoor play is necessary but must be supervised and lead by an adult.”

Unsupervised play is the key, concludes Skenazy. “Parents have to realize it is the super-vitamin kids need. And kids need to see that the outdoors is their . . . videogame, another world they can escape to — with or without a granola bar in their pocket.”

Why does Mr. Snuffleupagus snuffle?

Sesame Street is trying to teach nature, math, science and engineering ideas to preschoolers, reports the New York Times.

. . . (A cow) made it up the stairs to the beauty parlor but now, her bouffant piled high, she’s stuck. Cows can go up stairs, she moans, but not down.

Enter Super Grover 2.0. Out from his bottomless “utility sock” comes an enormous ramp, which, as the cow cheerily notes before clomping on down, is “a sloping surface that goes from high to low.”

It’s not about the letter C or the number 7  any more. Now Sesame Street is tackling “topics like how a pulley works or how to go about investigating what’s making Mr. Snuffleupagus sneeze,” reports the Times.

Zach Hyman

Murray Monster, shown here attending Robo Fun School, appears in science-focused segments with children.

Super Grover 2.0 “uses magnets, springs and ‘superpowers’ of investigation, observation and reporting to solve problems through trial and error. Before settling on a ramp for the stuck cow, for instance, he tries a trampoline.”

Last season, Elmo began starring in a daily musical that incorporates math.

On Sept. 24, Sesame Workshop will launch “Little Discoverers: Big Fun With Science, Math and More” on the web site. “In one game, little fingers manipulate a virtual spring to launch pieces of trash into Oscar the Grouch’s trash can, a Sesame Street version of ‘Angry Birds’.”

How green are Millennials? Not very

Green? Schmean.  Young Americans are less interested in environmental issues than baby boomers and Gen Xers were at the same age, concludes a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Over the last four decades, in young people have lost trust in others and interest in government; they spend less time thinking about social problems. And they’re not all that keen on green, notes AP.

Researchers found that, when surveyed decades ago, about a third of young baby boomers said it was important to become personally involved in programs to clean up the environment. In comparison, only about a quarter of young Gen Xers—and 21 percent of Millennials—said the same.

Meanwhile, 15 percent of Millennials said they had made no effort to help the environment, compared with 8 percent of young Gen Xers and 5 percent of young baby boomers.

Young baby boomers and Gen Xers were much more likely than Millennials to say they’ve tried to conserve electricity and fuel used to heat their homes.

One professor says the younger generation has less contact with “unpaved” nature.

At Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania, Biology Professor  Richard Niesenbaum estimates 5 to 10 percent of students are environmentalists, 5 percent are hostile to environmentalism and 85 to 90 percent are OK with protecting the environment and conserving resources, but not interested in being “seriously inconvenienced or paying a cost to do so.”

Perhaps Millennials are burned out on green.

Field trip: Rocks, flies and no cabs

Ms. Cyanococcus at Biology and Blueberries took her high school students on a field trip to a local nature outreach center.

My kids visited three different ecosystems — a forest, a meadow, and a pond — and learned about the different adaptations that animals have in order to survive in their environments.

I thought the field trip was great. My outdoors-challenged students thought otherwise. Here are some of their comments throughout the day:

“Yo, I be thirsty. Where’s the water fountain?”

“I just tripped over two rocks. If I trip over another one, I’m suing.”

“Ewwww, there’s a fly.” “Oh my god!” “That jawn tryin’ to land on me!”

“Where the frogs?” “They got ’em at Petco.”

“Do we got an elevator or escalator comin’ up this hill?” “Can I call a cab?”

Here’s a quote for the day.

Reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic and recess

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, say researchers. And Jack will concentrate better with some down time in the natural world. A Pediatrics study found children 8 and 9 years old behaved better in class if they had more than 15 minutes of recess a day. From the New York Times:

Although disadvantaged children were more likely to be denied recess, the association between better behavior and recess time held up even after researchers controlled for a number of variables, including sex, ethnicity, public or private school and class size.

Thirty percent of elementary students have little or no daily recess time, the study found.

A small study of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder last year found that walks outdoors appeared to improve scores on tests of attention and concentration. Notably, children who took walks in natural settings did better than those who walked in urban areas, according to the report, published online in August in The Journal of Attention Disorders. The researchers found that a dose of nature worked as well as a dose of medication to improve concentration, or even better.

I visited two schools that let children with autism or hyperactivity issues take an exercise break to calm themselves.

Parents are trying too hard

Mom and Dad are spending more time caring for their kids, writes economist Bryan Caplan in Chronicle of Higher Education.  But is it worth it?

Time-diary studies show fathers and mothers spend more time caring for their kids than they did 40 years ago.

But the benefits of parental attention wear off as children grow up, Caplan argues.  In the long run, nature beats nurture.  And parents who do too much may burn out, which isn’t much fun for children or parents.


One notable study by Ellen Galinsky of the Families and Work Institute found that while most parents believe their children want more face time, only a tiny minority of children actually do. In contrast, about a third of children wish their parents were less stressed and tired. What kids seem to want from their parents isn’t more time; it’s a better attitude.

In other words: Take it easy, Mom and Dad. Your kids will be fine.

Hmm. I’m not convinced that parents have so little lasting effect on their children. On the other hand, neglectful parents probably aren’t reading the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Via Division of Labor.