#80. Observe something and keep a record on a daily basis

IDEA #80. Observe something and keep a record on a daily basis—your weight, the temperature at breakfast, the number of cars parked on your block at a particular time of day, the number of times your teacher says a particular word over a two-week period…. Make a graph and look for patterns.

If scientific genius is “ninety-nine percent perspiration and one percent inspiration,” as Thomas Edison said, much of the sweat equity in progress has come from careful, regular observation and record-keeping. Extraordinarily, it is the highly disciplined management and analysis of disease records, rather than lab work with microorganisms, that has led to the understanding of the causes of many epidemic diseases, and the laws of planetary motion are a product of the detailed recording of planetary positions by Tycho Brahe; Kepler and Newton drew upon such records to derive mathematical principles, and Newton applied these principles to the study of gravity.

Modern science depends on detailed quantitative record-keeping, and much of the application of computers in science is in the service of developing statistical models. The young scientist who sets about the precise recording of observed data is, therefore, participating in a long and fundamental scientific tradition.

The fun of this activity, of course, is to begin to discern patterns. If the recorder makes a point of recording several possibly related kinds of data—temperature and barometric pressure, say, or the total number of goals scored in each game each day in a professional ice hockey league and the number of spectators in each arena—interesting correlations may appear. The task of the scientist, of course, is to determine whether these correlations are in fact the result of some natural or psychological forces or merely coincidence. The number of fish caught by Aunt Minnie each day may or may not have anything to do with what Aunt Minnie had for breakfast, but careful observation of these two phenomena might yield significant data.

As with any form of observation, regularity, precision, and the number of data points generated are the key to meaningful results, and so this activity also involves a certain amount of self-discipline before there can be any analysis. The more consistent the manner of the observation and recording, the more useful the data will be.

#79. Get some friends or relatives together and camp out for a night (or more)

IDEA #79. Get some friends or relatives together and camp out for a night—or more. Make sure you get permission and observe good camping practice—leave no trace!

Camping out is about as fun as an activity can be, but successful overnights in the out-of-doors are the result of some careful thought and planning. Much of this planning has to do with the campers’ understanding of their own capacities as well as practical knowledge.

The first order of business in planning a camp-out is to determine who the participants will be. Good campers are old enough to be independent of the need for comforting adults or frequent trips to the bathroom; fear of the dark is also something of a limiting factor, although sometimes an overnight in a tent with trusted friends or family members can be enough to help dispel this phobia.

Destination and equipment are equally important, as the object is to minimize the risk of having inclement weather or other environmental factors intrude on the participants’ good time. Perhaps a back yard or some public space very close to home seems like a good place to begin (and of course, make sure that anywhere you plan to camp allows such activity). Unless there is absolutely no risk of rain or animal visitation, some kind of tent is required, but this need not be an expensive model from an outdoor-equipment store—hundreds of thousands of pioneers and soldiers have made it through the night under the equivalent of a blanket or tarpaulin tented over a rope strung between two trees or other objects, with the corners somehow fastened down. Sleeping bags or blanket rolls (made by pinning a blanket together into an envelope) keep out the chill. Some sort of small flashlight—to be used for serious business only!—completes the absolute basics.

Of course, if the hike is to distant place, there will also be the need for food and other necessities, including perhaps even recommended tools for dealing with human waste. Camping equipment and camping regulations can be quite elaborate in many locations, and prospective campers who are combining their overnight or nights with some hiking on trails or on public land should check with local authorities before setting out. In some parts of the country there are very strong prohibitions on camping or very serious regulations to be followed.

The need for camping safety cannot be overstated. Camping seems to involve knives and fire more than other activities, and the young camper needs to be instructed in proper use of sharp tools and in the basics of campfire safety. On the whole, fire management and cooking are best done under the supervision of someone wise in the ways of Smokey the Bear and of the specific equipment being used, and local regulations must be strictly observed not only to protect the participants but to protect the environment. A campfire, incidentally, can never be put out thoroughly enough.

Perhaps the most important goal of the thinking child’s camp out is to begin to instill a sense of environmental stewardship into the young camper. For many decades the Leave No Trace movement among outdoorspersons has emphasized the idea that a good camper literally leaves behind no evidence of his or her having been present in an environment. Whether the site of the camp out is a family backyard or a designated campsite in a national park, when the group leaves in the morning there should be no sign at all that they have been there.

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