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Keeping my kids interested

outreach beginner observing star party
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#1 SciGlass

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Posted 05 August 2020 - 10:56 AM

I wanted to share a brief story because I have an interest in many technical hobbies with lots of picky enthusiasts and I know how we are. We are particular and protective of our stuff. Even when we have gear specifically acquired or retained for outreach, there's still a bit of a cringe whenever a child (or adult for that matter) smudges an EP. I learned long ago dont hand my 1960s Spiderman comic books to anyone who isn't a collector and doesnt have knowledge of the proper courtesies or even context one should have when handling such a treasure.

We all understand people are more valuable than objects. And we all, as far as I've seen, take efforts to mitigate any damage to our nicer astronomy gear.

The point of this thread is to be a cautionary tale. I specifically purchased a Meade Starpro 90 AZ refractor for my very young son to use as his own under supervision. I've assembled my older and less valuable EPs into a case for him and I've been showing him the ways to properly take care of his equipment. The reasons for doing this are obvious. However, I have a problem with being over protective with anything I value. Even a cheap telescope. As a father to 2 boys I know the challenges of maintaining high expectations and any risks of being way too hard and critical of the young men. There is a happy medium which can, when you are anal retentive, be tricky to maintain.

My son, as young as he is, enjoys going out in the yard and finding objects himself, using his slow motion controls etc. 2 nights ago we came to a crossroads.

As it happened I did not realize we were at a crossroads but later I was able to bring the situation into clarity and ultimately I'm grateful it happened.

We had finished planetary observations for the night. It was one of those really great evenings where you finish up, completely satisfied and buzzing from the views. We were going through the steps of capping the objectives, making sure all the pieces of the kit were properly stowed away, etc. My son asks how to position his refractor vertically and over my shoulder I told him, "just a sec buddy, dont turn any knobs, I'll show you when my hands are free" when a fraction of a second later his scope came careening off the mount, smacked the dew shield off, did a couple of somersaults, before ending up with the objective lense in the dirt and grass. My initial instinct was to chastise the ever living heck out of him for not listening to direction I had just given him. But I didnt. Instead I took an instructional approach reclaiming the scope and dew shield, and showing him how to inspect it for damage. There was no chipping to the lense, the focuser and diagonal were fine. No harm. But after a 30 minute lecture I realized there could have been severe loss, severe harm done had I reacted differently, I could have killed the hobby for him completely. Not to say consequences should not be handed out when a child acts with malicious intent or brazen carelessness. But we need to learn by making mistakes, and sometimes I feel like as anal retentive hobbyists and collectors we can lose sight of this. I could have ruined astronomy for him and I feel like as obvious as this story is, there are endless threads about careful maintenance and storage of EPs and telescopes, that I'd like to add one about how not to lose forever your child's interest.

It could have easily happened to me.

At the end of the day I ask myself, would I take a $200, $300, $400 accidental loss to keep my child interested in astronomy and the answer is a resounding yes.

Maybe this topic has no utility, but if it helps another temperamental dad like myself think twice about how we are stewards of this hobby, this fundemenetal human science in fact, then maybe we can not sweat the small stuff. I am much harder on myself if I fumble or damage something FWIW.

As an added note to this story, I have been to outreach events where the folks were a little edgy with the children, not rude, but very particular. And while I think that it is warranted, as children need to learn the value of other people's belongings, we should realize that if we in fact choose to share this with children, they will inevitably do annoying and inappropriate things with our gear. And I had purchased this Meade scope for EXACTLY that reason yet still found that obsessive hobbyist rear his ugly head.

I'd love to hear any stories from you all. Any accidents or carelessness involving family or friends? Anytime you can think of when you have been at a crossroads with children or others because of something they did? I feel like this could apply to spouses as well although my wife knows how to handle the gear from experience so I've never encountered that.

Edited by SciGlass, 05 August 2020 - 11:17 AM.

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#2 E-Ray

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Posted 05 August 2020 - 11:43 AM

SciGlass, Thanks for sharing! Yes, our normal parental instinct is to immediately start yelling "I told you so!" but you handled it much better. 

Ed


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#3 SciGlass

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Posted 05 August 2020 - 11:47 AM

SciGlass, Thanks for sharing! Yes, our normal parental instinct is to immediately start yelling "I told you so!" but you handled it much better.
Ed

...for once, haha

#4 JohnBear

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Posted 05 August 2020 - 12:07 PM

Often it is hard to remember that "Teaching moments and opportunities" are far more effective (and rewarding in the long run) than instinctive reptile-brain-response chastising and punishment. 

 

Good job!


Edited by JohnBear, 05 August 2020 - 12:08 PM.

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#5 ShaulaB

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Posted 05 August 2020 - 12:08 PM

Speaking as a Mom, our kids were exposed to viewing through telescopes since they were infants. We let the kids use a 4 inch f12 Dob when they were little, saving our C8 for grownups. This worked out really well.

 

I have been doing outreach for the public and schools for many decades. When the kids approach the scope, I ask them " Do you see with your hands or your eyes?" So no need to grab the eyepiece. I try to make sure the adult associated with the child hears this, so they can correct the child grabbing the eyepiece rather than me. Engage the adult(s) with the child; it is important now with people's heightened awareness of "stranger danger."

 

On one occasion, when my 10 inch Dob was sitting horizontal, a child ran up and jumped onto it. In the dark, did it look like a mechanical bull? I tried to remain calm and let the child know this was not a good idea. His mother was irate and rather rude with me, telling me that at a public event, her kids could do whatever they wanted.

 

Children have not been as much of a problem as men in their 30's or 40's who think they know everything. When my back was turned, a guy thought it was ok to play with my finder, putting it way  out of alignment. Another fellow just grabbed my scope and started slewing it around, without undoing the mount's RA and DEC locks. There were other annoying incidents from fellows who knew absolute zero telling me I didn't know what I was talking about. There is another issue at play here that I won't bore you with. Children have never done the worst of the behaviors. 

 

Bright children usually develop a variety of interests as they grow. So if your child loses interest in Astronomy and moves on to another obsession, don't let your feelings get hurt. The skills you are teaching your child will be applied to other pursuits.


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#6 SciGlass

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Posted 05 August 2020 - 12:30 PM

Speaking as a Mom, our kids were exposed to viewing through telescopes since they were infants. We let the kids use a 4 inch f12 Dob when they were little, saving our C8 for grownups. This worked out really well.

I have been doing outreach for the public and schools for many decades. When the kids approach the scope, I ask them " Do you see with your hands or your eyes?" So no need to grab the eyepiece. I try to make sure the adult associated with the child hears this, so they can correct the child grabbing the eyepiece rather than me. Engage the adult(s) with the child; it is important now with people's heightened awareness of "stranger danger."

On one occasion, when my 10 inch Dob was sitting horizontal, a child ran up and jumped onto it. In the dark, did it look like a mechanical bull? I tried to remain calm and let the child know this was not a good idea. His mother was irate and rather rude with me, telling me that at a public event, her kids could do whatever they wanted.

Children have not been as much of a problem as men in their 30's or 40's who think they know everything. When my back was turned, a guy thought it was ok to play with my finder, putting it way out of alignment. Another fellow just grabbed my scope and started slewing it around, without undoing the mount's RA and DEC locks. There were other annoying incidents from fellows who knew absolute zero telling me I didn't know what I was talking about. There is another issue at play here that I won't bore you with. Children have never done the worst of the behaviors.

Bright children usually develop a variety of interests as they grow. So if your child loses interest in Astronomy and moves on to another obsession, don't let your feelings get hurt. The skills you are teaching your child will be applied to other pursuits.



The last part is very true and I completely agree with that. I have not conducted outreach events but I've been to a number. I've always had, and required my children to have respect for those who have brought their equipment and dedicated their time. I understand where you are going with the men in their 30s and 40s range. Much like here on the forums, I would never assume I know more than anyone else. Thus, grown ups are allowed no quarter when they are rude in their endlessly creative ways haha

#7 nighty

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Posted 12 August 2020 - 06:08 PM

Kids are the future and I try to treat them like the adults I hope they become. It is very difficult for many adults to relinquish control and let the curiosity inherent in children guide the learning experience.

 

My outreach scopes are very touchable. Usually built from used parts acquired from the classifieds, these dobs can be used and pointed by the kids. 

 

At the library events and adult helper stays near the 6 inch dob, but I encourage the kids to move it around. When explaining how to see things I try to explain how far away the object is and how touching the scope will not hurt it, but will move it off target.

 

On the awesome nights when we have many targets the kids start helping each other see things in different parts of the sky. Often with low targets a child will stand in front of the scope. The knee jerk reaction is for me to tell them to move, but it has proven better to let the kids figure out what has happened and let them police the front of the scope instead of me. It is great to see their expression when they realize they are in the way.

 

My EP;s are in a cardboard box. Often I bring multiple scopes and cannot run all of them at once so I recruit help from the attendees. This frees me up to talk and that is what I enjoy about outreach the most. There are always so many questions that it is hard to work a scope and answer them all. 

 

On a cloudy night at a new venue I brought in one of the dobs. After a great talk I invited the kid to come see the scope. They mobbed it and pointed it at everything possible looking in every opening it had. Never expected that response, but that is what it was made for. A couple days later it took twenty minutes to get the spider and secondary back into order. Yet I laughed at the pure joy the kids showed with the scope.

 

Try to remember when you were a child and it may help you let some of the control go.

Keep an eye on the adults. Once a person licked their finger and tried to wipe the sunspots off the eyepiece lens. Oh my.

 

Terry

 


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#8 SciGlass

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Posted 12 August 2020 - 07:09 PM

Kids are the future and I try to treat them like the adults I hope they become. It is very difficult for many adults to relinquish control and let the curiosity inherent in children guide the learning experience.

My outreach scopes are very touchable. Usually built from used parts acquired from the classifieds, these dobs can be used and pointed by the kids.

At the library events and adult helper stays near the 6 inch dob, but I encourage the kids to move it around. When explaining how to see things I try to explain how far away the object is and how touching the scope will not hurt it, but will move it off target.

On the awesome nights when we have many targets the kids start helping each other see things in different parts of the sky. Often with low targets a child will stand in front of the scope. The knee jerk reaction is for me to tell them to move, but it has proven better to let the kids figure out what has happened and let them police the front of the scope instead of me. It is great to see their expression when they realize they are in the way.

My EP;s are in a cardboard box. Often I bring multiple scopes and cannot run all of them at once so I recruit help from the attendees. This frees me up to talk and that is what I enjoy about outreach the most. There are always so many questions that it is hard to work a scope and answer them all.

On a cloudy night at a new venue I brought in one of the dobs. After a great talk I invited the kid to come see the scope. They mobbed it and pointed it at everything possible looking in every opening it had. Never expected that response, but that is what it was made for. A couple days later it took twenty minutes to get the spider and secondary back into order. Yet I laughed at the pure joy the kids showed with the scope.

Try to remember when you were a child and it may help you let some of the control go.
Keep an eye on the adults. Once a person licked their finger and tried to wipe the sunspots off the eyepiece lens. Oh my.

Terry


I do not actively participate in outreach events but I am very grateful I chose the outreach forum to share this story.

I think looking at the story I shared above and thinking about how I would interact with other people's children is a great contrast to find the happy medium with my own children.

It's my opinion that folks who participate in outreach events have a lot of experience and thus a great perspective on the mixing of children and telescopes.

I will add that my son learned a valuable lesson by sending his scope careening into the dirt and I was really touched by the specific care he took the subsequent evenings in the yard. He is only 9, he looks older now, he has a certain sophistication about the way he carries himself, but very much still has the perception of a small child. Frankly, I love that about him.

#9 nighty

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Posted 12 August 2020 - 07:33 PM

I only have the experience of once and maybe still being a kid to guide me.

 

All I wanted to get across was that it is ok to give the kids the responsibility to care for the scope as long as the adult can give up being overly protective of a very inexpensive learning instrument. That is the hard part. The out come is often a great leaning experience for a young person.

 

 

 

Terry


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#10 SciGlass

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Posted 12 August 2020 - 07:51 PM

Well the kids are the most expensive part of my life anyways, what's another few hundred! JK

Your point is an excellent one and interesting as it made me realize the natural scaling of expensive items my son has conquered from a cheap fishing pole to a telescope and many steps in between.

I think originally I wanted to share an SOS about freaking out and killing the hobby for your children over one incident. Kind of giving them a fear to be involved. You have bridged to the exact causation for losing one's composure by suggesting to loosen the grip on a child experimenting with an instrument. That is a great association and it brought my point into a more focused definition for me and anyone else reading.

Thank you!

#11 nighty

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Posted 12 August 2020 - 09:16 PM

Russ You are welcome and thank you for seeing the lesson of my posts.

 

My failures have created more enduring learning than my successes. Often we forget the simple process of falling down so often as we learned to walk.

 

It  is great  that you are sharing the skies with your children. Someone showed me the moon when I was very young and I cried when they pulled me away from the eyepiece.

 

Life is looking up

 

Terry


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#12 NearVision

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Posted 13 August 2020 - 05:59 PM

Thanks for sharing these teaching moments. All of you. While I don't have kids of my own I've been a scout leader and am active in outreach locally, so I often interact with kids. Paying attention to the kid and parent works. It gets the kids attention and when they follow the steps they have a great experience.

There are 3 events that stick out to me. The first was back in the 70's. A friend had a multi thousand dollar stereo system. He let his 5 year old play her records on it because he showed her how to do it in a way she understood and why it should be done that way. And everything and everyone were happy. The second was at a public star party a few years back. I had a ETX70 setup on one of the piers on the observing field. It was about waist high so even small kids could use it. A family with a very interested kid around 7 or 8 kept coming back. After the third time I asked if the kids would like to run the scope for a while. Parents were OK with it and the kid was excited. Less than 5 minutes instruction on how the simple handset and focusing worked and she had a blast showing other people stars. The third was when I setup binoculars on a tripod/parallelogram and let a school class trip use them to look at the moon. After the first few minutes explaining how it worked I stepped back and the kids were showing each other and the adults.

 

These were all good events without a drop or damage as the start like SciGlass, but taking a few minutes to teach by sharing not lecturing, opens them up to so much more.


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#13 SciGlass

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Posted 13 August 2020 - 08:13 PM

Thanks for sharing these teaching moments. All of you. While I don't have kids of my own I've been a scout leader and am active in outreach locally, so I often interact with kids. Paying attention to the kid and parent works. It gets the kids attention and when they follow the steps they have a great experience.
There are 3 events that stick out to me. The first was back in the 70's. A friend had a multi thousand dollar stereo system. He let his 5 year old play her records on it because he showed her how to do it in a way she understood and why it should be done that way. And everything and everyone were happy. The second was at a public star party a few years back. I had a ETX70 setup on one of the piers on the observing field. It was about waist high so even small kids could use it. A family with a very interested kid around 7 or 8 kept coming back. After the third time I asked if the kids would like to run the scope for a while. Parents were OK with it and the kid was excited. Less than 5 minutes instruction on how the simple handset and focusing worked and she had a blast showing other people stars. The third was when I setup binoculars on a tripod/parallelogram and let a school class trip use them to look at the moon. After the first few minutes explaining how it worked I stepped back and the kids were showing each other and the adults.

These were all good events without a drop or damage as the start like SciGlass, but taking a few minutes to teach by sharing not lecturing, opens them up to so much more.


I am myself a HiFi enthusiast and a turntable was the first sensitive piece of equipment I gave my son. He does a pretty fantastic job with it and it's all manual. No auto features. I wanted him to be attentive to it. When the record is done, rest and lock the tonearm and put the record away and he does it everytime. Although I will caveat by saying my actual vintage system is too valuable, no touchy haha.

#14 sg6

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Posted 14 August 2020 - 02:45 AM

I help at a lot of outreach. Kids are the main point of a lot of it, adults come second on the list of importance, maybe third.

Yes things get touched, fingers get places no sensible person would consider possible. Big grippy 2" eyepieces are ideal for little hands to hold on to and steady oneself, especially if the thumb can get inside the top bit.

 

Annoyingly the little whatsits know a lot and so ask a lot. So far I think I have kept ahead, sometimes just.

 

My outreach scopes are also specific. So will be the Bresser 102, ETX70 and 72ED mainly.

Accessories are Skysafari for information - like how far away is it? Where it is is easy = where the scope is pointed.

Good to have specific information on hand rather then general.

And a pointer just for where whatever is.

 

Helps if you also haven't quite grown up, I apparently qualify well in that area.

 

Have found that 2 people are useful, although often I am in a full size observatory so 2 works well. One conducts the general night and the other answers a question. Continuous swapping of the role occurs.

 

Will say different places (countries) have different approaches. Years ago a museum vist in the UK was a quiet controlled affair. When I visited one in Holland it was a more riotous affair for kids. They were everywhere. Always seemed a better approach.


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#15 SciGlass

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Posted 14 August 2020 - 02:58 AM

Whatsits haha.

Actually you brought something fantastic to my attention. My wife has a loose/casual interest, bordering on passion, with the hobby. On occasion we will have as many as 5 kids in the yard all enjoying the Dob. And very often my wife is just hanging out. The 2 person team outreach schematic that you outlined would be a great way for us to engage together instead of her just waiting in line to have a look. Thanks a lot!

#16 bumm

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Posted 14 August 2020 - 07:46 AM

I've done very little outreach with my scope, and haven't felt I have too much to offer in this thread.  I only have one scope, and admittedly, I'd probably be over protective of it in a situation where a number of kids are running loose.  The few times I've used it at public star parties, I've been fortunate that the parents kept their kids under control, and the times a kid kept coming back to the eyepiece were very gratifying, memorable experiences for me.  I'd have to say that if I personally did much outreach, I'd have to have at least one "cannon fodder" telescope that I wouldn't have to hover over and worry about.

     What got me to post this was the title of the thread, "Keeping my kids interested."  You probably won't be able to.  smile.gif  Kid's interests can be intense, and may hang on for some time, but other interests likely will drift in and interfere...  Dinosaurs, etc, and later friends, cars, the opposite gender, and life in general.  HOWEVER, amateur astronomy seems to be one of those interests were a seed takes hold, and often many years later it sprouts again and grows into a passion.  Many personal stories in this group attest to that.  If you've introduced your kids to the sky, they'll remember those days, and often, sometimes after you've passed on, the interest will come back as a fond memory and then grow deeper.  It will make their life better.  So don't be too disappointed when you see your kid's other interests pulling them from the eyepiece.  You did your part, and planted that seed.

                                                        Marty


Edited by bumm, 14 August 2020 - 09:32 AM.

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#17 SciGlass

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Posted 14 August 2020 - 01:36 PM

If you've introduced your kids to the sky, they'll remember those days, and often, sometimes after you've passed on, the interest will come back as a fond memory and then grow deeper. It will make their life better.


Thanks Marty for the inspiration. That is also exactly what happened to me as a child. Just a simple department store refractor and the moon with my dad. Mostly just sitting outside talking for hours and looking up. Trying to spot a satellite which was not as frequent back then.

You've made good points that I agree with. Thanks
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