Okay, this one’s for the parents of children aged, I dunno, four to sixteen or so. Use your own judgment. It stems from some thoughts provoked by another post that will be coming up eventually, and seems to me to be a fun parent/child activity that can spur some scientific and learning interest as well. I’ve never tried it, except for a variation with one of my nieces some two decades ago, so let me know how it works for you.
The rules are simple: Pick a lazy day, have a full tank of gas/petrol/electricity/fryer grease, and put your kid in the driver’s seat. Well, perhaps not literally, let’s just say ‘navigator’s station’ instead. Get in the car, and leave it up to your child to tell you where you’re both going. No, not a destination, but the route instead – all of the turns, straight out of the driveway. The kid calls the shots, within reason of course, but basically, they’re free to explore. If you find something interesting, get out and check it out.
You will want to have something to prevent you from getting lost, of course. A GPS is fine, but not as much fun as a map, which the child is encouraged to use (perhaps after getting lost – you gotta have some sense of adventure after all.) This is where the expensive web-enabled smart phone or tablet becomes more than just an overpriced toy too, since it can be used to produce more information about whatever you might find – lacking one of these (and as far as I’m concerned, more power to you,) you can take notes about such things to check out when you get back.
Here’s another fun item to bring along: a halfway decent mapping compass. Know about magnetic declination for your area, and shoot some sightings on whatever interesting landmarks you might spot. Learn the basics of triangulation, and then you and your kid can figure out just what you were seeing when you get back and trace those lines-of-sight. For this, you might want some decent topo maps of your area. The compass is also good for quizzes about direction of travel, using the sun for navigation, and various geographic activities.
We all love exploring, and this is a simple way to exploit your child’s interests, as well as giving them a little control that they may well be frustrated about (since, in case you’ve forgotten, it’s a long wait to adulthood.) You, on the other hand, are challenged to point out anything interesting that you might encounter, and to find answers to your child’s questions – as well as learning a little more about your area yourself. Much more interactive for you and your kid than soccer, more personal, and cheaper too.
Try it out, develop some variations, and use it to expand your activities. And of course, feel free to come back and tell me how it works, and what I missed ;-)