Debra Ross is the publisher of KidsOutAndAbout.com, a web site for parents based in western New York State. She’s also the proud winner of one of our exciting book (and iPod) giveaways! She recently wrote about the acquisition of a new field guide has affected her and her two daughters, aged 7 and 8, for the better:

I’m having a new experience with my kids this summer: we received the awesome Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America book from a contest at 10,000 Birds, and have been going gangbusters with it. Okay, well, I have, and Madison and Ella are being swept along happily (as though they had a choice!).

Interesting to me is that my new experience of constantly trying to identify birds is remarkably like my experience of first learning physics as a teenager. (I know that sounds odd, but bear with me.) When I first started understanding physics, it was as though my eyes had suddenly been opened to a whole new world that had been all around me all the time: I saw everything in terms of motion, mass, and objects’ relationships to each other. It was as though a new layer of mental life was suddenly available to me. My brain was busier, and happier.

Well, it’s the same thing with birding. I’m still a total novice, but I (and the girls, to some extent) suddenly see a new dimension to the world. Before, we’d see something flying by, and our minds would barely register “bird.” If we were lucky, we might identify “robin,” “cardinal,” “sparrow,” and “starling.” But now, something flies by, and we see beak shape, and wing span, and breast color, and flight pattern. Our brains are starting automatically to run through our list of what we know and what we don’t know, comparing what we just saw with those birds we have identified as a result of this book. “Quick!” someone will say (and not always me). “Get the book before I lose the colors in my mind…let’s see if we can identify what it is.” Yesterday, Ella and I saw a towhee. I’d never heard of a towhee before we looked it up and determined that this was the bird. The point is, before a few weeks ago, I wouldn’t even have noticed much beyond “bird.” Now, the whole world is a-flying, and our brains are now attuned and enjoying it.

Eastern Towhee

Eastern Towhee by Corey

The fact is, all learning can be like this. No matter what new thing you decide to learn about, it will open up a whole new way of looking at the world. It can be birds. Or math, or anatomy, or politics, or training for a marathon, or orienteering, or jazz music, or WHATEVER. There is a real joy in applying oneself to something new, a joy that may leave many of us after we leave school (or even before we leave school.) So I encourage you to find that something new to learn about with your kids, and show them not just that learning goes on forever, but that it adds rich layers to our lives.

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