Young children are often fascinated by things that may appear insignificant to most adults. A pretty leaf, a ladybug, a smooth stone. Gifted children may have a desire to find out all that they can about such treasures. When I was a child, it was difficult for parents to help their kids obtain any information that they themselves did not possess. Libraries might have had a book or two on the subject of interest, but perhaps fall short of answering all of the inquisitive child's questions. Kids today can get their information more readily through the internet, and develop a deeper appreciation for nature and the world around them. Here's an example of how an attentive caregiver can facilitate a child's exploration. The paragraphs below were dictated to me by my daughter when she was five years old, as part of a journal she kept for a science project.
"On August 11, I was going out to get some tomatoes from our garden. Then I saw her, sitting on a branch of our tomato plant. She was a really big green caterpillar. She was very, very cute. She had white stripes with dots in between them. She also had a little horn sticking out of her bottom! I showed my Mom and we looked her up on the internet, and found out that she was a tomato hornworm.
Tomato hornworms grow up to be hawkmoths. The adult moth can smell tomato plants from very far away. She will seek out a tomato plant and lay her eggs so the young can eat tomato leaves and tomatoes as soon as they hatch.
I decided to keep Crystal as a pet. Mom helped me to email an entomologist who helped us set up a home for her in a small aquarium tank. He told us to give her tomato leaves to eat.
She ate for about a week. She ate tons of tomato leaves and cherry tomatoes. She got very fat. Next, she changed color and turned brown. After that, she turned into a pupa. We waited a long time, but she never emerged. That was because... she was dead. We do not know what went wrong. Tomato hornworms are supposed to change to moths in about two weeks."
As you can see from this report, my daughter spotted the caterpillar and wanted to know more about it. When she came to me, I could have said, “yuk!” and made her throw the bug away. But she was so excited! I immediately thought that it might be a hornworm, but we went to my computer and looked it up to be sure. My daughter read all the information we could locate online, but she still had questions that I couldn't answer. So we took the next logical step, contacting an expert! The friendly entomologist who we emailed was happy to explain what my daughter needed to do to care for her little charge.
Although poor Crystal met with a sad end, you can see from my daughter's words that she enjoyed their brief time together and that she learned quite a bit in the process of first identifying and then caring for her. The best learning often happens "accidentally" when the child initiates the endeavor and is most enthusiastic and engaged. Keep this in mind as the children in your life find their “pet projects”!