My son Matthew was completely intrigued with Dr. Henry Walton “Indiana” Jones, Jr. and wanted to know if he was a doctor, why he didn't wear that “funny thing” around his neck like "Dr. Heart" (Dr. Hartswick — his pediatrician). I tried to explain that Indiana Jones was a different kind of doctor than Dr. Hartswick and that he examined people that had lived a very long time ago. That he studied these people by trying to find the things they had left behind, rather than examining their bodies and listening to their heartbeat; that he was an archaeologist.
How? Why? When? Where? What? The questions were pelted at me in a repetitious flurry, as my response to each piqued Matthew's curiosity even more — and so our journey began.
The very next day, in spite of the fact that it was bitterly cold and blustery, we ventured off to our community library in the small Vermont town in which we live, to learn all about archaeologists. We scoured that tiny library with our favorite librarian — but to no avail. As we left our library, Matthew’s head hung low and his feet scuffed the ground. His disappointment was obvious. To console him I said, “It’s okay buddy, our library is very small, and they don’t have nearly as many books as the big city library — let’s go on an adventure and see what we can find.” He immediately perked up at the idea of embarking on this quest and so off we went to attempt to satiate my five-year-old’s curiosity about archaeologists.
By the time we got there, he was more excited than ever. He ran in through the giant double doors and up to the big mahogany desk, where the librarian sat. He was barely tall enough to see over the desktop and had to stretch on his tippy toes to get a glimpse of the lady that was about to save his day. While trying to constrain his excitement he took a deep breath and politely asked, “May I please have a book about ark-a-gists? – Because that is what I want to be, when I grow up.” The librarian looked at me a bit bewildered, and I promptly explained, “An archaeologist!” “Oh,” said the librarian, “I see — Well, I am not so sure if we have a book that would suit you but let’s explore.” Matthew was quick to leave my side and head off with the librarian to learn all about “ark-a-gists.”
They went to the picture book section, where you would find books appropriate for a five-year-old. They searched and searched; however came up empty handed. When the librarian noticed Matthew’s demeanor change in a swell of sadness, she quickly explained that that was not the only section of the library — there was still the reference section for bigger kids. Off he went again with newfound excitement. And low and behold they discovered a book, although more geared towards older children it did have lots of pictures — just what we needed!
We went back to the front desk where she helped us obtain a library card so that we could check out the book that was going to teach us all about archaeologists. Matthew was so excited that he could hardly contain himself. While I filled out the new patron paperwork, he sat on the floor turning the pages of the book. “Look, mommy, a mummy! Look, mommy, a broken vase — you’d be really sad if you broke your vase! Look, mommy, gold money, and a skull!” Once I had finished the paperwork, Matthew reluctantly allowed the librarian to have the book so that she could check it out for us. Once the book had been returned to his clutches, I said, “Matthew, do you have a magic word for the librarian today because she helped us find a book about archaeologists?” He quickly laid the book on the floor at his feet. Then waving his fingers slowly towards her and back again and staring into her eyes — his eyes open wide in a mesmerizing gaze — he said in a slow, breathy voice, “Abracadabra!” Well, that was not exactly the “magic word” I had in mind, so I thanked her while he excitedly picked the book back up off the floor and ran to the big double doors.
That afternoon we laid on the floor in front of a toasty, roaring fire for hours looking over every inch on every page of that book. Matthew devoured every single picture, and I read every single caption to him. Up to this point, I had never seen him so excited and impassioned to learn about something as he was about archaeology. By the end of that cold winter afternoon, he knew what it meant to be an archaeologist. He understood how an archaeologist created a dig site. He learned about all the different relics they might find. He learned about the pyramids of Egypt and other places in the world rich with treasures from the past, and he was more excited than ever to be an archaeologist when he grew up.
Once our reading was complete, we created a small time capsule in a clean quart paint can that contained some of his personal treasures — a Lego guy, a marble, a penny, a teeny stuffed toy gorilla on a key chain, a Matchbox car and a self-portrait in crayon. Our plan was to bury the time capsule in the backyard come spring, so that people in the future would be able to learn something about Matthew B. Owens. This hands-on activity would not only make an indelible mark on the history of civilization, but it would also make an indelible mark on Matthew B. Owens. The time capsule solidified the experience by transforming reading into hands-on learning. He would never forget that snowy winter afternoon, never forget what he put in his time capsule — which remains buried in the backyard to this very day — and most importantly, never forget what he learned about being an archaeologist.
Later that evening Matthew’s grandma came for dinner and complete with correct pronunciation he said, “Grammy I am going to be an archaeologist when I grow up.” She replied, “Oh Matthew that is an awfully big word for such a little guy.” He said, “I know Grammy – it’s such a big word it couldn’t fit in our library.”
Matthew, now 20 years old and a rising junior at the University of Vermont, is an avid learner and a pre-med student majoring in molecular biology — getting all A's and B's, I might add. Although he is not pursuing his early childhood dream of becoming Indiana Jones, I am convinced that the hands-on educational experience learning about archeologists when he was five years old is playing a significant role in his recent educational successes.
Encourage your children to explore, discover, and learn today — you will be amazed at how much influence that will have upon their tomorrows!
Tell us how you encourage your children to learn in the comments below!
Oh! And by the way, we'd be ever so grateful if you'd...