And a little child shall lead them

On my way to Havurah Shalom this morning for the Shavuot service, I heard this story on NPR’s Morning Edition about the Kids Science Challenge — a nationwide competition funded by the National Science Foundation to which more than 700 elementary school students submitted questions and ideas.

What floored me was the independent study conducted by an 8-year-old third-grader named Claire who took more than 100 water samples from five grass fields and five turf fields to study the difference in water run-off. She got the idea from playing soccer on the different surfaces and noticing that water on turf fields didn’t look quite right.

Even the NPR reporter seemed impressed by her work, and commented that the MacArthur Foundation should be paying attention.

For a good while now, I’d been concerned about increasingly sedentary kids who simply aren’t spending enough time outside, and who consequently aren’t bonding with the natural world. I was worried that we were breeding an entire generation of young people who would feel more comfortable in cubicles beneath fluorescent lighting and surrounded by off-gassing plastics than they would out in the woods, in the desert or on top of a mountain.

After listening to this student describe her science project, I’m not so worried anymore. Sure, we’re still dealing with escalating obesity rates in this country — particularly in children — but perhaps the near-saturation of climate change stories and concerns in the media is managing to seep through the haze of video games and other escapist entertainment to inspire and challenge young minds like Claire’s.

Perhaps the author of Isaiah 11:6 — “… and a little child shall lead them” — was prophesying about a religious messianic age, but it’s the quote that first sprung to my mind when thinking about Claire’s science project. I’m hoping there are many more like her in her generation, and that they will continue to push for environmental knowledge and solutions as they grow.

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