Darwin Day 2018: “How paramount the future is to the present, when one is surrounded by children”

February 12th is International Darwin Day.

Whether you are a parent, a teacher, or in some other capacity given responsibility over the education or raising of children, there is a lesson to be learned from the naturalist Charles Darwin (February 12, 1809 – April 19, 1882).

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From a 2009 issue of Natural History

Darwin was a devoted father, and in certain ways his attachment to his children was uncharacteristic for the Victorian period. Darwin and Emma married in 1842 and had ten children, seven of whom survived into adulthood. His own poor health meant that he did most of his scientific work from his home Down House: reading, observing, experimenting, corresponding, and writing. Thus, his family life and his scientific work intertwined throughout each day, and when his children were sick – which was quite often – his work would be delayed. But he also sought his children’s help, whether physically in experiments or for tossing thoughts back and forth. He included his children in the development of his ideas, and even thought of his children as scientific subjects themselves.

Darwin film Creation (CD with kids)

In the woods with Darwin (Paul Bettany) and some of his children, in a scene from the 2009 film Creation

The lack of original posts on this blog over the last couple of years is due to my raising my own children. As a parent, I appreciate the Darwin that allowed his children to pursue their interests, that introduced his children to nature and scientific subjects, and that sought to understand his own children biologically.

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My son as Charles Darwin in 2017. Photo: Sammy Prugsamatz

Darwin biographer and historian James Moore referred to Down House, its grounds, and the “menagerie” of animals there as “a childhood paradise – an adventure playground, summer camp, and petting farm all rolled into one.” Darwin surely saw the value in exposing his children to nature at home and at places nearby, especially Orchis Bank (now “Downe Bank”), the patch of land that inspired the words about “an entangled bank” in his conclusion to On the Origin of Species (1859).

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My children exploring at a local natural area in Portland, OR, here looking minuscule among the trees

I strive to both teach my children about evolution and to ensure their childhoods are full of plenty of time in nature. With constant challenges to evolution education in public schools and the always present yet increasing threats to the environment, there is no more important time than now to instill in our children a love for science and reason, and an appreciation for the natural world we depend on as a species. For us, and every living thing we share this planet with. Charles Darwin cared for his own family while learning about and sharing with the rest of the world about his larger family – the tree of life. We should allow our children to climb the tree of life, both metaphorically in learning about evolution and biodiversity, and in the real world through nature play.

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My daughter climbing a tree in Portland, OR

In an 1852 letter to his cousin William Darwin Fox, Darwin wrote, reflecting on his duties as a father regarding their educations and whether or not they were to inherit his health problems, “How paramount the future is to the present, when one is surrounded by children.” Our future depends on having citizens that are well-informed in science and that have reasons to vote in favor of the environment. So, let us celebrate Darwin Day – and every day – by taking our kids outside and teaching them about evolution.

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On a note card my mother sent me a few years ago

Resources:

Darwin Correspondence Project: Darwin and Fatherhood

Darwin Correspondence Project: Darwin’s observations on his children

Jim Endersby: “Sympathetic science: Charles Darwin, Joseph Hooker, and the passions of Victorian naturalists,” in the journal Victorian Studies. Endersby discusses Darwin’s role as a father in relation to his botanical work.

Tim Berra: Darwin and His Children: His Other Legacy, from Oxford University Press (Amazon); “Ten facts about Charles Darwin’s ten children.”

James T. Costa: Darwin’s Backyard: How Small Experiments Led to a Big Theory, from W.W. Norton (Amazon). This book recounts Darwin’s many experiments and shows how involved his children were; also, each chapter includes activity instructions for educators.

Carolyn J. Boulter, Michael J. Reiss, and Dawn L. Sanders (eds.): Darwin-Inspired Learning, from Sense Publishers (Amazon). For educators. Particularly the seventh chapter by James Moore, “Getting the Kids Involved – Darwin’s Paternal Example.”

The Bug Chicks blog: a guest post I wrote a few years back about Darwin, nature education, and parenting.

Jonathan Tweet: Grandmother Fish (Amazon). Fantastic book introducing preschool-aged kids to evolution

Kristan Lawson: Darwin and Evolution for Kids: His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities, from Chicago Review Press (Amazon)

Deborah Hopkinson: The Humbleebee Hunter: Inspired by the Life and Experiments of Charles Darwin and His Children, from Hyperion (Amazon). One of my personal favorite books about Darwin, or in this case, his children. My post about this book from 2012 is here.

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Art by Jen Corace from Deborah Hopkinson’s The Humblebee Hunter

 

 

 

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Children at Nature Play – my t-shirt fundraising campaign

Some of you may know that I also blog at Exploring Portland’s Natural Areas. I get my two kids outside and exploring in nature as much as possible, and love to share information for other parents, mentors, and educators.

Right now I have a Teespring t-shirt fundraising campaign to raise funds to order and then sell signs with my Children at Nature Play design (David Orr was my graphic designer). The t-shirts for sale have the same design!

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To learn more about this project of mine, check out this blog post.

To order a t-shirt (or more!), click here.

Even better, share the Teespring link with anyone you think might be interested.

Thank you!

Welcome, baby Afton!

On Wednesday, August 15, 2012, at 12:21pm, Catherine, Patrick, and I welcomed Afton Lee to this world. She was 7 lbs. 15 oz. and measured 20.5 inches. A friend commented on my Facebook page, “Glad to know there will be one more Nature Kid in the world!” Indeed. Oh, and she had one vaccine shot so far, and many more to go!

Patrick has been nothing but an attentive and sweet older brother. Isn’t she darling?

Busy busy busy

Apologies for the scarcity of posts recently. Between work, being a dad, and a forthcoming daughter (due date is August 11th), I haven’t posted much. Here’s Catherine and her bump watering in our garden:

Less than a month away

I’ve also been focusing more of my energy into my Portland nature blog, and so been neglected this here blog. I continue to share Darwin and evolution related content through my Twitter and Facebook pages (see the handy new social media logos on the right). A few things to share:

The Darwin Online project has revamped their website!

There is much that is new with Alfred Russel Wallace. The correspondence project for his letters continues to work away at transcribing (I’ve done a few myself), a campaign is set up for the 100th anniversary of his death in 1913, there is a fund to contribute to if you’re willing for a Wallace statue, and a new blog to check out.

And check out the archives list in the sidebar here to get your fix for recent history of science blogging.

Big news

Seeing that I have announced this on my Facebook and Twitter pages, I guess I should so so here, too. By next fall, Catherine and I will have another young child to introduce to science and nature. Come August, Patrick will be a big brother, and I know -I know – that he will help instill a love of nature and curiosity into his or her little mind.

Following a doctor’s appointment this morning while Patrick was at school, we told him the news this evening. I think he was happy:

Just the three of us

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Today marks my wife and I’s sixth anniversary (and seven years together). But as any parent knows, it’s not just us anymore. How the two of us came together to make such a delightful and beautiful little human being, I’ll never know.

Happy Anniversary, Catherine! And thank you for Patrick!

The photo is from a free session we won through Red Tricycle, with Grace Espiritu Photography. The shoot was done at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site in Vancouver, WA, just across the Columbia River from Portland. You can see some more shots at Grace’s blog and her Facebook page.