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The Wrack

The Wrack is the Wells Reserve blog, our collective logbook on the web.

Raising a Scientist

Posted by Wells Reserve Contributor | June 24, 2015


On one of my first days here at the Wells Reserve at Laudholm, I was given a very simple task by my supervisor: familiarize yourself with the exhibit areas.  As the sunlight illuminated the office floor and the cool breeze rushed through my window, as if beckoning me to go outside for a walk, staying indoors was the exact opposite of the interesting afternoon I had in mind.  Reading displays and interpretive signs for hours seemed incredibly boring.

Thankfully, I was wrong.

On my tour of the exhibits, I wandered into the Coastal Ecology Center.  If you are one of the many who have visited those rooms before, I hope you got as much out of it as I did, but I especially hope that you read this gem:

"Most children have a strong sense of curiosity and wonder for the world.  And if they can develop that and hold on to it, those kids will make great scientists." — Dianne Cowan, The Lobster Conservancy

If you didn't catch that on your previous visits, it's tucked in behind the lobster in the top left corner of the display recognizing coastal and marine scientists.It's simply to see nature itself, pure and stunning in both its simplicty and its complexity.

I read that quote over and over.  It seemed so apropos that in the moment that I was wanting nothing more than to get out on the trail and scout for some interesting and rare things to point out to our summer campers later this season, I encountered this sign. Suddenly, I understood that thing, that "X-factor" that children have that has continuously drawn me to environmental education. It's that sense of wonder, that curiosity, that thirst for knowledge.  It's the fact that something as simple as an ant can hold a child's attention for hours, while adults don't even see it.  And in that moment, I realized what it is that children need from the outdoors.

It's not a rare bird or a flower that blooms for only one day.  It's not catching a toad and watching it hop away. It's simply to see nature itself, pure and stunning in both its simplicity and its complexity. But there is an incredibly important dimension to a child's life that I feel is often neglected in our discussions of childhood curiosity: parents.

Parents, grandparents, guardians, role models: you all have such an important role to play in fostering curiosity. Too often, children are taught to sit quietly as they are taught, rather than encouraged to engage in their learning process. There is nothing quite like the great outdoors to inspire questions; I still find myself asking questions about nature every single day. Questioning is a pivotal part of learning, touted since the time of Socrates when he taught his pupils not by stating facts, but by asking them to think critically about something and discover their own truths.

Slug NestBut there is a second part to Cowan's quote that is just as important as fostering curiosity: "those kids will make great scientists." As a scientist, I could not agree more; that said, I think some clarification is needed on what it means to be a scientist.

We tend to think of science as a job that some people happen to have.  As a scientist myself, though, I realize that science is not contained within my job description. As Rachel Carson described it, "science is part of the reality of living." Being a scientist is about continuously striving to learn more and to find answers. Even if your child wants to be an actor or a chef when they grow up, there is no reason they cannot also be scientists.

I encourage all of you to be role models for the children in your life. I encourage you to question everything and make science and the outdoors a part of each day, and to share that with a young person you know. The world needs more scientists, even if they don't graduate from college with a science degree.

So keep questioning, keep inspiring, and above all, keep finding wonder in nature.

There is one quality that characterizes all of us who deal with the sciences of the earth and its life — we are never bored. We can't be. There is always something new to be investigated. Every mystery solved brings us to the threshold of a greater one.

Rachel Carson

Endless wave action

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