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Raising a Scientist

I’m pretty sure that my son, Finn, is going to grow up to be a scientist… or a lawyer. He’s the best seven-year-old negotiator that I’ve met. But that’s because I’m the one making him go to bed, cutting off the sugar, and regulating his natural object collections to only one corner of our dining table. I do try to encourage his scientific notions, despite the mess it creates. Currently on the dining table we have a makeshift fish tank, home to a minnow named Lightning that Finn captured from the creek. My husband and I are farmers – so mud, hay, and feathers are already part of our décor. One spring, when Finn was three, I actually let him bring a tub of mud into the kitchen to play with. I thought the kitchen was a better alternative than his hands freezing in the puddles outside. And really, what more damage can mud do compared to the new calf we had warming in the kitchen a few weeks earlier? Fish, mud, or calves – the reality of these things in Finn’s hands add greatly to the books we read him, bringing a greater understanding of how the world works.

We moved to Westport, New York from Alaska to farm, so that our family could spend more time together. The first time I brought Finn to visit Lakeside, soon after arriving in New York, I knew we had found a home. Five years later we are still here, almost entirely because of our love for this little school perched on a mountainside overlooking Lake Champlain. Now we commute to Lakeside from our farm in Vermont. Because I also work at Lakeside, the two hour a day commute is sustainable. However, the decision to continue on at Lakeside, instead of perusing any of Vermont’s varied schools, was driven by just how amazing Lakeside School is, and the opportunities it provides Finn.

Finn’s Preschool and Kindergarten experience, in Lakeside’s Farm and Forest Kindergarten, was nothing short of exceptional. In Finn’s first year, at three and a half, Finn was the youngest child in the class. That year, he revered the six year-old “leaders” and his incredible teachers. I watched my child, who had been so attached to me, immerse himself into his school community – enthralled with the atmosphere of discovery, joy, and wonder. He was muddy and exhausted when I picked him up, too tired to tell me much about his daily experience. Occasionally he would bring home little snippets from songs or stories. It wasn’t until his second year of Kindergarten that these grew into full performances. As the seasons changed I heard of Wisky Frisky the squirrel and her nut gathering, the “poor robin” and the winter wind, the tall maple tree with the sap rushing through her trunk, and the farmers sowing their spring seeds. Life’s natural cycles were brought home in Finn’s pockets and musings.

Later, in his third year of Kindergarten and as the oldest student in the class, Finn stepped into the leadership role – directing the dam building or construction project of the day. He became an “expert” in building forts and campfires, tapping maple trees, identifying wildlife scat, and navigating through the forest without a trail. He witnessed such sights as a sleepy porcupine emerging from a Kindergarten built fort and a newborn fawn nestled in the tall grass. In his daily explorations through the forest he watched the seasons change like a playhouse rearranged by Mother Nature. The stream he caught frogs in during the fall froze into a magical crystal pathway in the winter, then melted into a raging torrent perfect for boat racing in the spring. During Lakeside’s annual Farm and Forest Summer Camp the same stream dried up under the summer sun, exposing clay deposits which Finn and his friends made into sculptures. Finn has never listened to a lecture on the water cycle, but he deeply understands the relationship between the weather and what that means for both the stream and the wildlife that live around it.

Finn is now a first grader in a mixed aged class with seven other students, taught by the amazing (and patient) Kathleen Morse. He is learning to read and write (and loves it!) More importantly he is learning a love of language, now reciting poetry for us at dinner time and recounting each book Ms. Morse reads to the class. He also loves math and teaches me hand clapping games to practice his multiplication tables. But more importantly than the love of these subjects, is Finn’s love for learning that is now so evident. As we commute to and from school he comments on the migrating birds – asking about each different kind, wondering what it eats, and where it is going. We do a daily drive by survey of the nesting ospreys on the electric poles along the road and the waterfowl that feed under the Crown Point Bridge. One weekend Finn developed a “ball comparison” experiment, explaining to me why a basketball, soccer ball, and tennis ball bounce differently because of how they are shaped. This love of learning is evident in all of Finn’s classmates – encouraged by a teacher who is dedicated to creative lessons and by the support of our school environment that encourages discovery and wonder in the natural world.

This sense of wonder is a foundational component of the curriculum in each of Lakeside School’s programs. As winter very slowly turned to spring this year, I watched our Sprouts Day Care young students exclaim at the rainbows in their classroom that “magically” appeared each sunny day because their teacher hung a crystal in the window. One three-year old proclaimed as he sniffed the mud scented air in March that it “smelled like maple tapping time.” In April I was greeted by tiny hands gently holding up wiggling worms, “the first of the year!” the children shouted. This morning after a couple of toddlers helped their teacher fill the play yard bird feeder, a red winged blackbird perched to feed. The children’s eyes watched the blackbird closely as it flew away. Then they ran to join their friends who were racing down the hill. Our youngest students know fully that spring has arrived because they have watched each new sign appear. As they play I can see the new life of spring bursting forth with joy.

My child is full of this joy and energy as well. He asks when it will be time to swim in the river. He is ready to go fishing. He is ready to run, and climb, and bike. His whole body knows that warmer months are coming and he is ready to dive right into the fun. And with this new season I’m sure our house will be filled with nature experiments. Of course I don’t really care if Finn becomes a scientist or not. As all parents do, I want him to be a well-balanced, healthy, and happy adult that contributes to the world in a meaningful way. My husband and I feel strongly that the foundation Finn is receiving at Lakeside School is an essential step towards this goal. Now we just have to keep up with the laundry, messy experiments, and adventuresome outings that accompany our small scientist.

Photo courtesy of Adirondack Foundation, by Erika Bailey.

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