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Science Kids on the Loose

Science Kids on the Loose

When Left to Their Own Devices

Sometimes I just need to get stuff done. You know…I desperately need to clean, or write, or read, or just sit and look at the ceiling. Henry and Leo seem to have inner superboy powers that signal to them when I need this time, and in turn, they strive to thwart my efforts. Thwarting usually involves the phrases, I am bored, I am hungry, or He is bothering me! At these desperate moments, I often talk to the ceiling asking for patience, a little time to myself, and sanity. But when I am clever, I can distract the thwarters and let them think I am leaving them to their own devices.
One clever route is to blithely suggest: Why don’t you make a train town?
Henry and Leo have a wonderful battery-run, chunky, plastic train set that we have been adding to for about 4 years. Sadly, the train set does not come out very often, even though I have created brilliant organizing bins for the components. (Thanks IKEA!) But when I put the suggestion in their little brains, their inner town planners and engineers come out. Train Town can keep them busy for at least an hour. I am around, and sometimes have to intervene or help solve problems, but for the most part the boys play on their own.
I am always impressed by what they come up with. Great feats of engineering come out of these train sessions. I could never, in a million years, solve the problems they do in terms of physics, force, and sheer ingenuity. Henry is usually the main designer with Leo acting as client. Leo asks for high hills, low bridges, and a place for his trains to sleep. Henry delivers that and more. They even have simple machines in form of loading bays and drop off centers. Sometimes, they even make a spot for the cat. And guess what? They don’t even know that they are employing science skills while I sort through papers on my messy desk!
Another tough time for me is the 90 minutes before dinner. Inevitably, they BEG me to watch TV and they are always STARVING. Which to me translates to bored and cranky. Most of the time we all end up cranky and I either send them outside or turn on a baseball game. But sometimes, when I think they will fall for it, I make a fort suggestion. Just like Train Town, forts are not a regular activity and seem to retain novelty over long periods of time. Once I plant the seed, I am free to go off into the kitchen in peace while they create on their own. They always have set criteria: a covered structure with two separate rooms. I love listening to them negotiate materials and size. And the living room gets turned upside down. They bring pillows, stuffed animals, blankets, and towels from all over the house. The boys go through a lot of trial and error in their construction and no two forts are ever alike.
I know we have talked a lot about forts with Sid, mostly in reference to light/darkness. And that definitely comes up – the darker the better. But what I have noticed more is their problem solving and engineering skills. Leo seems to have more confidence with the fort building, which can cause more conflict, but I think its good for them. Henry can’t always be in charge and Leo needs to assert himself. What they come up with is amazing. I marvel at their clever solutions and the structural integrity of their designs. And like Train Town, the boys have something to actually play with once the creating is finished.
The boys are always sad when it is time to tear down the forts or put the trains away. But there is always another design or another idea to explore. And I get the change to cross some items off my To Do list.
How do you get your kids to play independently? How often to you leave them to their own devices? I would love to hear your ideas!

Produced by: Funding is provided by:
Jim Hensen Corporation logo CPB ViNCi MetLife The Rosehills Foundation S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation logo The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations logo

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