Monday, January 24, 2011

Trilobites and Ammonites

A friend told me that the Science Museum of Minnesota has a Preschool Playdate program on Mondays and I decided this week that it was time to visit. Being a former museum professional myself, I had visited the Science Museum many times previously, but never with my own kids (I assumed that the content was too old for them still).

Amelia is still too young to really "get" the exhibits, though she absolutely adored being there and experiencing it with her brother.

But her brother, the big five-year-old, LOVED it.

Jackson spent the summer collecting anything and everything he could find in nature that was interesting: shells of bugs, seed pods, agates and rocks and even an entire, intact monarch butterfly (dead). He became Nature Boy and declared that he was put on this earth to collect things.

People would ask him "what do you collect" after he finished telling them that he is a collector, and he would reply "everything." It's sort of true too, though we're trying to hone his collecting skills a bit to make sure that his bedroom doesn't end up resembling a junkyard.

The same friend who told me about the Preschool Playdates at the Science Museum mentioned their Collector's Corner trading post program where kids can bring in an object they found in nature and trade it in for another item at the museum. They have to share their knowledge about the item and it is assessed by the staff who then determine its point value for trading. I knew at once that Jackson would love this, so that was the big push behind our visit this morning.

Given that Jackson has Asperger's, I did a lot to prep him for the visit. We talked about how Collector's Corner works, which item would be appropriate to share (no, sweetie, they don't want a button or bottlecap from your collection), and what it might be like to give it up and leave the museum without it. I presented the option to him of just visiting today and not taking part in the trading, so he could check it out first. We could go back another time to trade if he wanted, I said.

He just did an "uh huh, uh huh, uh huh" routine with me during our prep so I wasn't sure what to expect.

We got to the museum early and were the first ones to the Collector's Corner (probably the biggest key element of our success) and after I said the pleasantries and greetings, he dove in:

"Hi, I brought something to show you, it's a trilobite. It's also an arthropod. It's a fossil and it lived millions of years ago. It's related to a horseshoe crab."

(exchange of information ensued with the impressed staff member, he earned 3,000 points for his trilobite and an extra 500 "for knowledge")

< < < excuse me while I beam > > >

He then proceeded to explore each of the trays of items within his point range for an item that he could take home. Quietly, carefully and purposefully, he selected a large piece of quartz. He decided he liked it because it was a crystal. (I thought the fossilized sea urchin was cooler, but it was his trade.)

Then, (this is where it gets good), he went on to tell the staff members what else he saw in the case. Some things were obvious (sea horse, starfish, sea urchin) but here's where he surprised me: "Oh, there's an ammonite. It's a fossil."

To quote his father's text message to me later in the day, "Ammonite? WTH is an ammonite??"

My reply to him "I don't know, I thought you taught him that!"

Turns out that neither of us taught Jackson about ammonites so we assumed that he learned it at school. (Preschool though? I was still skeptical.) At home, I turned to his new Kingfisher First Encyclopedia that his dad has been reading to him every night before bed and found the page on fossils. This is what I saw:
Jackson then came over and said, "Yeah, mom! That's the page about ammonites! See? They were sea creatures and then became fossils. Pretty cool, huh?"

Yes, totally cool. Even more cool is the fact that Dan breezed by that page almost a month ago and hasn't re-read it to Jackson since.*

One gloss-over of one part of one page in one book almost one month ago, and the kid pulls it out of his memory the second he sees a real specimen in the museum and shares his knowledge of it as if he were a nerdy 9yo.

Jackson has been known to stutter and get ahead of himself when he gets excited or nervous about sharing his knowledge. But today, in the Collector's Corner, he acted, well, like a nerdy 9yo who had absolutely no qualms about talking science with museum people. He made eye contact, had a patient exchange of information (a.k.a. a conversation), learned new things and shared what he knew.

It was amazing. Especially because he's not a nerdy 9yo (though he will be nerdy when he's 9, I'm sure). He's 5.

Five. Tomorrow is his official birthday and he's just five. Or, sometimes I feel like saying "how can he already be five??" But mostly, I'm amazed that his age and his mental abilities are so disparate. That's Asperger's for you though.

The other super cool thing about this though, is the discovery that JACKSON LOVES SCIENCE. (duh) He loves it in a way that makes all of the other negative parts of his behavior or interactions with other people (temporarily) go away. His teachers have noted that his best days recently have been the days where they've done science experiments at school. He becomes a "normal" kid and just is really on fire in an appropriate way when engaged with science. He talks to kids, waits for replies, shares information and stays focused on the activity at hand.
That's what I saw at the Science Museum this morning. He tuned in, exchanged information, learned a lot and was regulated (in terms of body movement and sensory stuff) during our whole visit. Which is saying a lot, considering that the museum was packed with both people and potential overstimulation at each turn.**

Needless to say, he crashed in the car on the way home. This was my solid reminder that he IS still "just" five and can still get pretty worn out from a lot of learning and activity.
But the surprises continued when we got home:

Mom to a groggy Jackson coming in the house: "Are you ready for a piece of chocolate birthday cake, Sweetie?"

Jackson: "No, thanks. I'm going to go upstairs and sort my science collections like the museum. I have a lot to do."


I am happy to report that he did emerge for chocolate cake about ten minutes later, so despite unique traits showing up here and there, he is, in fact, a "regular" boy.

*We're starting to wonder if he can read, even a little, but doesn't want to share this until he's perfected it. That might explain the recognition of the tag "ammonite" next to the specimen at the museum.

**We bought a membership to the museum and consider it a very good investment.


Purple Purl Girl said...

A sneaky reader, I know about that one. Five years old, gracious, I was just playing peek-a-boo with a 6 month old the other day. The days are long but the years are short. Happy Birthday Jackson!

Guinifer said...

I don't post often, but I read all of your updates. I just wanted to share my experience with my (now 18 year old). He has graduated high school and is in college, in 2nd grade he was diagnosed as ADD (no H in there), and gifted. (I now suspect he has Aspergers as well, but that's in his hands now.)
In 2nd grade he was reading at an 11th grade level. To the tester's delight, he often was reading upside-down from her file.

He learned to read as a 3-year old. I got tired of telling him what signs said, and I told him a way to sound out words was that the letters of the alphabet made the sound of their own name. He immediately started reading street signs to us from his car seat and he never stopped. Sounds to me like your little boy may have figured this out all on his own.

Beth said...

4 words for Jackson ...
Amazing (and of course)
Happy Birthday!

We love you!

Becca said...

This (and Jackson himself) is so sweet and wonderful and amazing. Any time you see your child "click" with something they love, it's a proud moment. But and experience like this, Catherine, must feel like a life changing one. Happy birthday to your 5 year old and congratulations on another year of admirable and encouraging parenting!

Emily said...

In case you're like me, and wonder "how the heck did someone from (fill in the blank) find my blog", here's how: I was looking at blankets on Ravelry, and then got linked to the moses basket cover that your Ravelry friend (Kristina?) made for you, and then I found you, and then found that you were from Minnesota (me too!) and had a blog. . . so. . . just peaking in. Your story about the Science Museum was so touching. Just thought I'd let you know. I'd be so proud, too.

Nicole said...

Happy Belated Birthday to Jackson from Leo and Nicole Cisewski! We still have the duckie CD you made for his first birthday. It's been awhile since I've read your blog. I really enjoyed learning about ammonites and that the science museum has programs for preschoolers. What a wonderful experience for Jackson and your family. Thanks so much for sharing!