Once a week Rowan takes a trip to San Marcos, a small city located between Austin and San Antonio on the banks of the San Marcos River.
He likes to go there because over the summer we discovered that there is a section of the river that has a safe but fast flowing current which spits you out in a little pool with ladders where you can climb out. From the minute we discovered this hidden gem Rowan was hooked, he is after all an adventurous 10 year old boy who has a particular love of swimming in the rivers and creeks of Texas.
Of course it wasn’t long before we discovered that this particular section of the San Marcos River was not only fun but had great potential for learning.
Why? Because the rhythmic movement of the river and the sensory value of being in water/nature placed Rowan in the state to receive and retain information.
We quickly covered topics such as what makes a river flow and the history of San Marcos (which is thought to be the oldest continuously inhabited site in the Northern Hemisphere) before moving onto much more complex entities such as force, velocity and acceleration.
As always we introduced these relatively abstract ideas as part of a game involving, in this case, a group of cartoon characters called the fireside girls. Any of you who were reading this blog last year will probably remember the fireside girls as a group of girls from the cartoon Phineas and Ferb who Rowan used to be besotted with and who used to feature a lot in our daily lives and who we grieved over the loss when Rowan decided he no longer needed them and it was time for them to return to their homes.
Well this summer they returned but with a new twist, we no longer like them and are constantly trying to avoid and get away from them. Rowan often refers to them as pesky.
On this particular day the fireside girls were chasing us down the river and Rowan asked how we could get away from them. We suggested that rather than just floating with the current we start to swim because the force of our muscles coupled with the force of the current would accelerate us away from the fireside girls in no time (as they were lazy and would be relying just on the force of the current). Rowan soon picked up and went with the idea and words such as force and acceleration soon populated our conversation. Over the weeks we gradually added in new information involving the effect that other factors such as weight can have on acceleration and speed.
Crucially we never asked Rowan to participate in these conversations and instead allowed him to do it in his own time. We also never attempted to put pressure on him by testing his knowledge and grasp of the subject knowing from past experience that this has a tendency to make him shut down.
Instead we simply trusted that when Rowan was ready he would demonstrate to us, in his own way, his understanding of the topic.
And true to form the moment came earlier this week when I happened to mention to Rowan that I was finding it harder to swim against the current than last week and I wasn’t sure why. Rowan pondered this for a bit and then replied that perhaps it was because I was wearing shoes this week and the shoes were making me heavier and that heavier objects require more force to accelerate than lighter ones.