In my previous post on meeting people in the field, I talked a bit about my little herder friend Latho, one of several children I met while doing fieldwork in India. Interacting with kids in the field can be difficult and somewhat distracting from the work at hand. But some of the children I met were so delightful that they made up for all of the distractions. Here are my other young friends from the field:
Interactions with children can present an incredible educational opportunity for both them and me. Being able to explain my research simply, often in an unfamiliar language, to a young child with little knowledge of biology, is a good sign that I know what I’m doing. From the children’s perspective, I hope that my explanations open their eyes a little more to both science and the natural world that surrounds them. I’ve found several ways of making these interactions more fun and perhaps more educational:
Binoculars and cameras: by far the easiest way of keeping a child entertained! I haven’t yet met a kid who didn’t want to look through binoculars, and a bribe of a chance to look through binoculars is the only way I’ve convinced a kid to leave me alone (i.e. “if I let you look through the binoculars, you have to leave me alone for at least an hour”)! Cameras can also be fun, especially if they let you zoom in to details of plants, animals, and faces. But be prepared for being accosted by a never-ending stream of children who all want their photos taken!
Measuring equipment: even if you don’t want to measure lizards (or whatever else) in the field, having a pair of callipers or a weighing scale handy to take some measurements can help a child understand what your aim is. This is especially useful when you can’t communicate your research directly due to language barriers. Moreover, having kids read off measurements is one way of involving them in the process…
Involvement: any way you can find of involving a child in what you’re doing, obviously without compromising your data, helps to make the interaction more fun. When I measure and mark lizards in the field, I let kids release lizards for me and tie flagging tape onto perches. My motives here are selfish–by giving the child a tiny bit of ownership over the flagging tape and showing them why it’s there, I hope that they won’t subsequently remove it! When measuring soil sand content, Jigna and Sonu helped me wash out containers between trials, a task I had no desire to do myself and that they couldn’t get enough of!
Questions: assuming no language barriers, asking and encouraging questions are the best ways to make an interaction meaningful. More about questions in a later post!
Formal interactions: I try not to pass up opportunities for interacting formally with groups of children. My limited experience suggests that kids can be more inhibited in such settings, but these settings present a chance to meet children you wouldn’t necessarily see wandering through the fields or forests.