Saturday, February 14, 2015

Why does the ocean have waves?

I have a bachelor's degree in chemistry. Rob has his in neuroscience, not to mention all the science classes he had to take in dental school. We. love. science. And I've always dreamed of introducing my kids to the wonders of science. And for many years, I've tried. Oh, how I've tried.

But guess what? A four-year-old just isn't going to understand the world of atoms and hydrogen bonding and electrons, no matter how simply you explain it. I can explain to Jane (6) about how the sky is blue because of the size of particle in the atmosphere that bends light at just the right angle. But let's be honest, I barely understand the intricacies of that answer. I know she doesn't. And for a child, who still sees the world as a place full of magic, still believes in fairies, Santa, and talking animals it's a terribly disappointing answer.

I had to remind myself recently of one of my favorite quotes from A. A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh. "Rivers know this: There is no hurry. We shall get there someday."

And we will. One day I will sit across the table from Jane and squeal about the amazing qualities of water and the "magic" of that 104.5 degree angle.

But not yet. Because right now, Jane still loves to hear about water as a living, breathing, thinking thing. She still sees the bees and the butterflies as playmates. And she desperately wants to find a fairy.

And so for now, I preserve the magic. Oh, I give them what they are ready for. We practice observation and experimentation. We explore the science that is happening all around us, the blooming flowers, and buzzing bees. The butterflies, earthworms, and bird nests. What we can see and touch.

So today at the beach, when my children were mesmerized by the waves, instead of lecturing about the gravitational pull of the moon and the tide and the physical and mathematical properties of waves, I told a story. And it went like this.

A long, long time ago, when the earth was still very young. Before there were humans or even animals. The sand and the ocean were best friends. The played together, and told jokes, and laughed and laughed.

Then one day, Ocean said, "Sand, you are my best friend and so I am going to show you my greatest treasure." And with that, Ocean pulled out the most beautiful, white shell.** It was round and smooth and sand just had to have it.

"Oh, please let me hold that shell," said Sand. "Please."

"No," said Ocean. "It's my greatest treasure. Nobody can touch it but me."

"Please," said Sand. "Please, please let me hold it."

"No," said Ocean. "It is too precious to me. I don't want to lose it."

Then Sand got angry and yelled and stomped. "Let me hold that shell or I won't be your friend anymore!"

Ocean didn't want to lose his best friend, so he gave Sand the shell. "Just for a little bit," said Ocean. "Then give it right back."

But when Sand held that beautiful shell, he knew he could never give it back to Ocean. He wanted to always be able to look at it.

"Okay, give it back," said Ocean.

"No," said Sand.

"Give it back now!" said Ocean.

"No," said Sand.

The Ocean screamed, and kicked and threw a glorious fit. "Give me back my shell or I won't be your friend anymore!"

But instead of giving back the shell, Sand threw it into the air and it got stuck in the sky. Sand rejoiced. Now he could always see that beautiful shell and Ocean couldn't take it back to his dark, watery depths!***

But Ocean let out a loud roar. "No! Shell!" He reached, reached his wet, foamy hands out and out. But they couldn't reach the shell in the sky. But Ocean couldn't give up. To this day, he still reaches his watery hands up over Sand, reaching, always reaching for his shell, which we now just call MOON.

**Rob pointed out that this would probably work better as a pearl.

***I originally had this go so that Ocean didn't see what Sand had done with the shell, and so the waves are really Ocean searching through the sand, looking for his shell, thinking Sand has hidden it somewhere. He finds many, many shells, but not HIS shell. This version is kind of fun, as today Jane was sure we'd found Ocean's shell and she kept shouting "I think the Ocean is mad at us now!" as the waves washed over our feet. You choose which you like best! I added the moon bit in because I can't help sneaking a tiny bit of science in there.

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