Even though social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter are often criticized, I'm a fan of them. I know that they can't come close to one-on-one face time; to a long conversation over coffee, or a walk in the park, or a thoughtful letter sent the old-fashioned way. And my friend's visit this past weekend was a testimony both to the importance of face time, but also to the value of technology in keeping connections alive and possible. I thought a lot this weekend about other old friends--and about how amazing it has been to reconnect with many of them over Facebook. I like knowing they're out there. Every time I log into Facebook I get glimpses of their lives--little windows into what they do, who they are today (and who they have always been), and how they are doing, through good times and rocky ones, too. When I look at my own profile page I imagine I'm looking at a field of microcosms, each containing microcosms of their own, and the thought is staggering--like looking up into the sky and catching sight of the lighted windows on an airplane, and imaging the worlds within.
When my friend was visiting we got to talking about how different things are these days for our kids, versus, of course, the way things were in the "old days" (it's sobering to think of yourself as having grown up in the "old days", as my kids term my childhood years). When I was growing up kids didn't have "playrooms" filled with every toy imaginable. We had our bedrooms and that was that, and only as many toys as could carefully be contained on the few shelves in that room. If we got unmanageable we were sent outside, where we wanted to be anyway. I remember my siblings and I spent hours playing outside--climbing trees, constructing imaginary towns among the ivy and shrubs, making tunnels in the leaves.
Things are different these days--for many reasons. And even though I know the outdoors is good for my kids, it's hard to get them there sometimes. Yesterday though L. asked to go out in the front yard to look for ants and I leaped at the request. I wasn't planning on doing any summer science on Sunday (I'm lining up a few bubble experiments for later in the week) but since the kids were interested in some nature time, and microcosms were on my mind, I reverted to an activity I did a long time ago with both L. and T. when they were toddlers. It's simple: using sticks "rope" off a square of nature in your yard.
Set your kids loose with the instructions to examine carefully everything that's inside the square. Challenge them to use their eyes and fingers carefully, so they don't miss something hiding under a leaf, or under a twig.
Can you see what's in our microcosm?
The kids found two torn moth wings, a white, perfectly round, spider egg sack, an industrious ant carrying a piece of leaf, two roly-poly bugs, some pale moss, and a brown mottled rock.
"Look Mama! A butterfly wing!" T. shouted. It was brown, and soft, and sad, disconnected from the moth that had once used it to take flight. What a microcosm we'd found, I thought. It had everything right there that makes up the world--life, death, work, beauty, ugliness, all squared off between sturdy twigs, and my kids loomed over it all, while above them the sun shone on.