Sharing interests in Biology

(images above are of one of the exhibits at the Hunterian Museum, London)

I took the girls to the Hunterian Museum in London 2 days ago and it was just fascinating. Okay, more so for me and my younger daughter (who’s 6), as we just seem to have the same interests in biology and nature. My eldest daughter likes this sort of thing too but not as much as me and my younger one.

We originally made the decision to go to London 2 days ago because we had learnt at the last minute, by word of mouth, that there was gonna be a “World of Minecraft” late night family event at London’s V&A museum. Now *that* was, in my eldest daughter’s words… “Awesome!!” So yes we spent a day and a half in London in total – first going to the “World of Minecraft” event, where they both thoroughly enjoyed themselves, then we returned to the hotel to sleep for the night, and the next day, after waking up and having breakfast, we went straight to the Hunterian Museum.

When I stepped into the Hunterian, I felt like a child in a “candy shop”. My eyes just lit up. And it made me realise I’ve always loved biology more than I’d ever acknowledged. I was not allowed to study biology in Secondary because I went to an academically-selective semi-private school and I wasn’t “creme de la creme” of my batch of students. And that meant I was not allowed to do biology. I was forced to do other hard sciences like Chemistry, Calculus and Physics though – this was de rigeur for all students in that school. In Singapore however, not doing biology at O levels meant you won’t get to do it for A levels either. Your future’s made in Singapore from the results you get in school from the age of 12, and not being allowed to do biology at O levels meant you will never be allowed to do biology in any Singaporean institution of higher learning. The only recourse was to be brave enough to go overseas and pursue biology at a great expense with no guarantees in sight.

Now that I’m in England, where there are night classes in biology open to all and running in most city colleges of further education, I know the opportunity is now open to me to do biology formally. Well if I can find the time, that is! Now that I’m home educating, time is scarce and limited.

And it’s just something that happened after I started unschooling. I’ve learnt to see opportunities instead of failure. I’ve gotten in touch with my true passions in life – a side effect of helping my children get in touch with theirs’. I’m thinking about how I can go about pursuing my passions, as I help my children pursue theirs’. Unschooling has been a very rewarding endeavour for me.

Today my 6 year old daughter wanted me to read one of her favourite books for bedtime – Usbourne’s See Inside Your Body book – and we did the pages on lungs and breathing. Reading it led to informal discussion of… Radiation.

And this was how.

In the book, there was an illustration of how oxygen we breathe into our lungs actually pass through the alveoli in our lungs (those balloon-shaped endings on the respiratory branches in our lungs), going into our blood and turning our blood red from blue.

“How does this happen?”, she asked.

Well, because there are tiny tiny holes in the walls of the alveoli in our lungs that are large enough for the little molecules of oxygen we breathe to fit through.

“Ahh…”, she said in realization.

Well this isn’t unusual, I added. Millions of tiny molecules are passing through our walls as we speak. In fact, they are passing through us. This happens all the time. You know what are some of these particles?

She shook her head.

Well our WiFi for instance. How do you think we can still get internet even though we’re in another room? Because the WiFi waves from the router are passing through our walls to get to us. And I mentioned other things like radio waves… how do you think music played from the radio station in the city centre gets to our radio at home? Well, the radio waves travel through the air, past the streets, going through walls, etc… to come to us.

I went on explaining how things like the microwave oven, radio frequencies, WiFi connections at home, the lights at home, sunlight, etc. all involve different forms of radiation. And I went on to illustrate briefly what radiation can be. The dangerous, cancer-causing sort that killed the two Curies… and the radiation from the sun that can give us skin cancer if we stay out in the sun for too long without sunscreen or shade. Or the harmless kind of radiation like the light (radiation) that emanates from our light bulb.

“I mean, do you think the light from the lightbulb in your lamp can cause cancer?”

“No,” she said, shaking her head firmly.

And radiation is the same as waves. They move like them. Except radiation can be invisible. Like WiFi is made up of invisible waves.

“What? Waves only happen in the sea! They don’t happen invisibly!” my daughter exclaimed.

I said oh yes, you can certainly view radiation moving in waves, just that you need to use a very special kind of microscope. Because the particles that move in radiation are so very tiny that we can’t see them without special machines.

She listened intently, very wide awake at that point. I noticed my eldest daughter had dozed off by then! I decided to call it a night and tucked my middle child into bed and kiss her goodnight. She gave me a very long satisfied squeeze-hug before I went. An indication of just how much she loved what we shared just now. Just that informal conversation alone, about all that stuff that fascinates her.

We connected. Through shared interests. Though I know a little bit more than her at this point, my job is not to be the sole provider of all that she wants to know, but to help her discover new interests and learn to research things on her own so she does not have to rely on me (or any adult) to tell her what to do.

As I walked out their bedroom, I thought to myself “What?? What is all that I’d just been talking to her about??” Physics? I haven’t even touched Physics in years!

During my years of force-fed pure-Physics Secondary-schooling, I have never came to a personal realisation of these topics about waves and radiation. I might have read about it being mentioned on some texts before, but it was never really information that was absorbed and fully understood…just regurgitated for the sake of passing exams with flying colours. But tonight when I was explaining to her about all this, I felt I really understood it. It just flowed naturally.

So in a way, my knowledge has been enriched by home education. Even though I had set out to home educate for the sake of my children’s enrichment, not my own. I can’t begin to tell you how many times this has happened. This eureka moment, when I’m involved in my children’s education and I learnt something new.

Although I may put my daughter back in mainstream schooling eventually, especially since she seems to gravitate towards sciences (I know it’s very rare for a person to go it alone in the science fields without any affiliation to a traditional institution of learning), but I hope to home educate her as long as possible until the time comes, to keep her love of science alive as and until she naturally, if ever she would, lose interest in it.

Love learning for learning’s sake.

Let’s keep it that way.


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