Goings-on for Kids at the Harvard Museum of Natural History

Yet more shilling for the Harvard Museum of Natural History…seriously, these look like terrific programs.

Harvard Museum of Natural History Goings-On

Kids’ classes, clubs, and programs – Harvard Museum of Natural History.

Will you be having dental floss with your garlic mustard today, sir?

Kids really don’t want lectures. They don’t want to learn stuff.

Garlic Mustard Ball at Fresh Pond Day. Fighting invasives was never this fun.

They do learn stuff, though, because it is in the nature of their being to suck up information like a marsh.

Back in the fall of 2012, when I was muddling through the particular big muddy of what to do with a gaggle of second graders in a splendid semi-wild urban habitat right smack next door to their school, I went to an outdoor fungi hike led by mycologist Lawrence Millman. I got a little bit bit by the mushroom bug, and under all that pinestraw I found —in addition to some striking specimens—myself in an aha! moment.

The role of fungi in ecosystems isn’t rocket science but it’s pretty complex, with way more detail than I’m currently capable of synthesizing.

Cambridge School Committee Member Patty Nolan, at right, joins the Tree Team in Garlic Mustard Ball.

Well, as I get older I get more comfortable with beginner’s mind. I applied my rudimentary knowledge of Montessori pedagogy to what I did know, and many yards of dental floss later, a handful of kids not only know about mycorrhizal relationships but can demonstrate it to other kids.

I took a simple ball game my ten-year-old told me she’d played at gym and made it into a metaphor for how fungi and trees interact. Before showing a new group of kids the game itself, I do another kind of demonstration. One child gets to be a tree, another is the fungus. I give the “fungus” a big tangle of dental floss and explain that fungal mycelia are everywhere underneath the ground, impossible (nearly always) to see, running many miles in length. Some fungi interact with tree roots (the Fungus Kid moves the dental floss over to the shoes of the Tree Kid), providing better ability to absorb minerals and moisture. The tree also provides carbohydrates to the fungus (Tree Kid hands a piece of bread or cookie to the Fungus Kid), which as a non-photosynthesizing organism can’t otherwise make its own food.

The final step in the pre-ball-game demonstration is to get out a jar of mustard and a garlic clove and put it on the mess of dental floss, remove the dental floss, and tell the kids that the garlic mustard plant interferes with that process and the benefits the tree earns from the mycorrhizal relationship. End of high drama. I guess I should have the Fungus Kid keel over at the end. I’ll remember that when our next round of the club that starts in the fall and the fungi are in visible abundance.

Our club kids demonstrated garlic mustard ball at Fresh Pond Day, with a random assortment of unfortunate adults, gleeful younger siblings, and passersby of all ages.

Club member (second-grader) explaining to the throngs the symbolic nature of the game. Yes, that’s dental floss in his left hand.

Is Your Kid Bored? vs. Chipmunks in Winter

“Is Your Kid Bored” is a little bit of bait and switch. I apologize. As a parent who deals with my own kids’ “boredom” crankily, I am so sorry to hear you have this problem too. But somehow, despite my best intentions, I have poked at the problem sideways, by cooking up some after-school clubs for other people’s children (not mine, alas), some of which have flown and others of which didn’t even hatch.

As a latecomer to the world of out-of-school time (OST), I’m amazed at the array of acronyms, the replication of school after school,  and the byzantine territorialism in this field, but also at the nuggets of good works going on, some in the strangest places. I admit my eyes have glazed over more than once at the administrative and legislative truck that comes with the OST field.

Lately I’ve been following (including on Twitter, too, where you can also follow me, @inthebigmuddy)  a national organization called The Coalition for Science After School as well as the Afterschool Alliance. To quote the Afterschool Alliance’s recent advocacy content,

“Even if you are thousands of miles away from Washington DC, you can still add your voice and advocate for after school!”

It seems everything must end with an exclamation point. I don’t particularly feel energized by punctuation, in fact, it can have the opposite effect. But they ARE barking up the right tree, so I repeat some of the Afterschool Alliance’s menu of things you can do below. Bark with us up this tree (sign the petition), and maybe the exclamation points will be made obsolete.

– Sign the Afterschool Alliance’s online petition

– Send a personal leter to Congress to support Federal 21st CCLC Funding for Afterschool & Summer programs

I leave you with an image from my outdoor, after-school club which gives kids two full hours a week in an urban habitat—punctuation of a different sort.

Checking for holes that could be entrances to chipmunk dens.