#43. Learn to identify at least three different kinds of animal tracks

IDEA #43. Learn to identify at least three different kinds of animal tracks

While animal tracking is no longer a vocational necessity in most parts, learning to observe the passage of other creatures through our world is an exercise in looking closely and analytically at our environment. The tracks in this activity do not necessarily have to be of wild creatures; learning to differentiate one family pet from another would also fit the suggestion.

Animal track guides can be found in most reference books, even including some dictionaries, and local environmental organizations or hunting clubs may have specific guides to animals found in your region. With winter approaching in much of the Northern Hemisphere, snowy yards and fields become a great places to find well-articulated and easily identifiable animal tracks. If the child who finds this activity engaging should have occasion to travel, it might even be worth trying to locate tracking guides for the destination.

Identifying a track is one thing, but actually following an animal’s trail is another. If there is a teacher or acquaintance skilled in this art, then perhaps he or she could be enlisted as a mentor. Otherwise, the aspiring Davey Crockett can start by trying to identify all the tracks in a certain small area, perhaps, and then expanding the territory. Over time patterns may emerge, and the youngster can learn to see not just tracks but animal movement. Other clues that can be learned include animal scat (droppings), which differ significantly from one species to another.

As always, if the youngster’s tracking takes him or her into an area with natural hazards, some safety guidelines should be put in place through rules and instruction. If there is serious danger—poisonous snakes, for example—it would be better if the child tracked with a friend, and possibly an adult friend at that.

#42. Read from cover to cover a magazine about a sport you don’t know anything about

IDEA #42. Read from cover to cover a magazine about a sport you don’t know anything about.

Magazines about specific sports abound, and the chances of finding one in a library—or at a bookstore—are great; consider just the number of magazines devoted to sailing, or automobile racing, or mountain biking, or surfing.

Like any publication about whose subject one knows little, sporting magazines at first seem to be written in some alien language. The visual images may be accessible, but the nouns and verbs refer to unknown activities and obscure performers. It is often the advertisements that provide the first keys to understanding, a reference here illuminating the gist of an article there. In time one begins to understand some of the key values of the sport as well as some of the issues of the moment, and a careful reading can be enough to make even a complete novice feel at least a bit like a real fan, although a few sports—like cricket—are so esoteric in their nomenclature and terminology that they defy easy comprehension just from reading.

It should be noted that some cable television plans include access to channels devoted to rarefied or uniquely cultural sports; an afternoon watching (for example) rugby, windsurfing, or some form of equestrian sport can be pretty engaging, as well.

Perhaps the magazine will inspire further investigation, even a trip to an event (see IDEA #33). No doubt there are surfers from Iowa who first learned about the sport from a magazine, and their example should not be taken lightly.

#41. Make a project of picking up all the litter on a single block of a street or section of a road every day for a set period of time

IDEA #41. Make a project of picking up all the litter on a single block of a street or section of a road every day for a set period of time. (Be careful of traffic, though!) If you want to make this into a science and math project, you could even keep a careful record of the weight of the litter or of exactly what sorts of things you are finding. Write an article for your local paper (or at least a letter to the editor) about the things people throw away carelessly.

Roadside signs across the nation proclaim that businesses and organizations are eagerly joining adopt-a-highway programs, but there is no reason that such arrangements cannot be scaled down. If the young person were to decide at “adopt a street” or even a block, there will no doubt be, sad to say, a steady supply of litter to be picked up; perhaps it might even be possible to engage a few friends in the activity, or even a school or youth group.

Selecting a place to perform this service may be a challenge, as a busy street or highway may just not be appropriate. There are obvious safety considerations here, and some adult supervision might be needed; at a minimum, bright-colored clothing should be worn. If no plausible place presents itself, perhaps a local hiking trail or park would be a worthy substitute.

Another safety-related issue has to do with sanitation, and this might well be an activity best done while wearing rubber gloves. Direct contact with litter should be avoided, as should contact with other roadside hazards—animal droppings or certain plants like poison ivy, which thrives on many roadsides all over North America. A good scrub after pick-up duties have been performed is highly recommended.

This activity can be done once, as a Clean-Up Day kind of event, or regularly, while walking a dog or just taking a stroll after school. A whole other issue is that of quantity of material to be picked up—some places may require multiple trash bags; perhaps deposit cans or bottles can underwrite the purchase. Even in no-deposit states, aluminum is recyclable and can be turned in to scrap metal dealers for a small premium.

For what it is worth, the study of trash and litter is actually a sub-specialty in the study of material culture, and there might be something to be learned from taking a systematic approach to collection and analysis. Counting cigarette butts or classifying beverage containers may not be everyone’s idea of fun, but the information may be of interest to some young people and perhaps of real interest or value to someone else in the community.

An excellent complement to this activity would be the composition of a letter to a municipal body or local newspaper, either decrying the behavior of the litterers whose carelessness one has learned about first-hand or urging broader community clean-up efforts.

#40. Challenge an adult in your household or immediate world to a formal debate: choose a topic, set a date, and prepare

IDEA #40. Challenge an adult in your household or immediate world to a formal debate: choose a topic, set a date, and prepare, prepare, prepare. Then have at it! (Maybe this could become a weekly or monthly event—with a great dessert.)

Nothing makes a young person feel more grown-up than having his or her ideas and opinions taken seriously by other adults, and this interactive activity—and the adult should plan on doing some serious preparation as well—will provide the youngster with both a reason to think seriously and logically about a particular issue and a chance to strut his or her stuff in an adult fashion, with an adult audience/opponent.

A formal debate should have rules, but there is no need to follow any of the many competitive debate structures. Even so, the topic should be clearly defined: “Resolved: That the lawn needs to be mowed only once a month,” or “Resolved: That the United States should devote as much money to solar energy as it does to military spending.” A few minutes of opening statements, a minute or so of rebuttal time for each side, and some time for closing arguments would suffice—equal time for each participant. Time limits, as set forth by a designated timekeeper, should be observed quite strictly so as to keep things fair.

Of course, a debate is not a debate without an audience to convince, and in this case at least a couple of audience members should also be judges—perhaps distributed equitably by age. The point of a debate is to assemble a logical and factually thorough argument that supports the side of the argument represented by each side (known formally as “Affirmative”—for the statement of the resolution—and “Negative”—against the statement), and the categories for judging should be about the quality of the argument, the use of evidence, and the quality of the speaking and presentation.

Regular family debates could even be used to solve ongoing issues (such as the frequency of lawn-mowing) or making household decisions. As participants become familiar with the form, they are likely to grow better and better at it, so watch out!

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