Sunday, January 21, 2007

Rainbow Over Chicago

In which I use a rainbow as a metaphor. Revolutionary! I'm sure this has never been done before!

At Christmas time, we drove for two days to get to Marshfield, Wisconsin. My husband's family lives there. It is a long, long trip, let me tell you. The length of this trip that we make to Wisconsin was the reason I changed my mind about the whole TV-in-the-vehicle idea. When Benny was a toddler, I went from haughtily saying "Is there no place that children are safe from the degrading influence of television??" to peevishly saying "Isn't there some way we can hang the screen closer to his face?" It's a long drive.

On our way to Wisconsin, we go through Chicago. Depending on what time of day it is, we often take a side trip down Lake Shore Drive, and wind our way up Sheridan, through the old neighborhood. Sometimes we even drive past our old apartment and reminisce about when we had to identify our vehicle by the antenna because the rest was buried under six feet of snow. When we get done with Chicago, and the northern suburbs are floating past us, we know we are almost there. At that point in the trip, this time, we saw this:

A double rainbow, right across the freeway, starting over there and ending right over here:

Completely amazing. Maybe the pictures don't do it justice, or maybe they do, I can't really tell because I remember it so clearly. It was without a doubt the best rainbow I have ever seen. Both of the children were delighted. I was delighted. It was delightful.

It led to a brief discussion of what makes rainbows, and how light is refracted, and what colors are in sunlight. The conversation was brief because A) my child is seven and B) I don't really know PRECISELY what makes rainbows take that shape, but it will for sure lead to a book from the library, and a deeper investigation. Now that they've seen a really spectacular, clear, strong rainbow with their own eyes, the book will make sense.

That may be the best rainbow I ever see in my life. It occurred to me, as I was driving, that the only way Dan and I would have seen this rainbow, and the only way the kids would have seen it, is if we made this trip. This is a trip that I obviously dread, not because of the visit, but because of the trip itself. But, the only way to see that particular rainbow was to get out the door and take the trip.


The rainbow was a catalyst for a teaching moment, about light and refraction and whatnot. Moreover, seeing the rainbow was also like running into other teaching moments, randomly throughout our lives. We encounter them without planning to, without organizing it. One of the major things I've learned about homeschooling in the last couple of years is that I can really trust the learning to happen, at random times, when there is a perfect illustration in front of them, if I get out into the world with the kids.

Here's an example: During Sadie's swimming lesson at the YMCA, Benny and I were sitting in the hot tub, watching. We had been swimming in the pool, and then we sat in the hot tub for about 20 minutes, and then we got back in the pool. When we got back into the pool, it was REALLY cold, and Benny noticed this. We discussed the reasons why the water felt colder, the idiom "Everything is relative" and we looked at the temperature of the pool and hot tub (on the wall) and using what we knew about the temperature of the human body, we speculated what temperature would feel too cold or too hot, etc.

This could have been learned from a book. But it was better to teach it right there, at that very moment, when we were freezing after sitting in the hot tub. Like it was easier to talk about the refraction of white light when we were standing, open-mouthed, gaping at a beautiful rainbow. And what I am learning, as I keep doing this, is that I have to first make sure that we're out in the world, where rainbows occur, and that I'm paying attention, so I can annoy my children with educational information just as soon as the rainbow fades.

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