A Young Scientist’s Starfish-Filled Holiday

With a science-obsessed kid in tow, any vacation can become a wonder-filled, educational scientific adventure.


AsianScientist (May 13, 2016) – We were in Wellington, New Zealand’s cultural and political capital, but instead of the great food, shopping and entertainment I had been looking forward to, it was 31 starfish that became the centrifugal force of our family holiday.

My seven-year old son, Jordan, spotted these frisbee-sized orange sea-dwellers at an inner city harbor-side beach, laying resplendently in the shimmery shallows of some cleverly designed rocky steps.

His yell of excitement carried across the dozens of picnickers.

“Mummy, I found some starfish! Quick, where’s my camera?”

He proceeded to scramble around the rocks for over an hour, trying to get some clear shots of these amazing creatures. Alas, the wind and waves made that a challenging exercise, so he had to content himself with careful observations so he could draw and catalog them later in his scrapbook.

As I sat waiting for him to finish his latest nature survey, with his little brother following his exclamations like an echo, I began crossing destinations off my mental shopping list. I realized that their scientific enthusiasm would not extend to the comprehensive survey of shoes and tops that I had in mind.

Holidays through a young scientist’s eyes

But in truth I didn’t really mind, because if the last four years are anything to go by, holidaying with a kid who loves science adds a whole new dimension to any adventure.

  1. You’ll pause to bear witness to the natural wonders around you

    A street isn’t just a street, as I’ve found out while out walking with Jordan.

    Hang around a young scientist long enough, and the most mundane of everyday tasks become imbued with a sense of discovery. Pausing to identify toadstools along the footpath (50 bonus points if this is a never-before-seen specimen in a new environment); turning a fallen leaf over to study its patterns of veins; staring at shadowy crevices in rock pools to observe sea anemone and tiny glass shrimp; looking out of an airplane window to guess which mountainous peaks were once volcanoes.

    On a recent road trip, we listened to an audio book from the library titled Great Scientists and Their Discoveries. This fantastic series brings the great scientists to life and makes their paths through life very relatable to children. When the narrator mentioned that Charles Darwin used to spend hours studying earthworms in his garden, I noted a glimmer of recognition in Jordan’s eyes—a kinship of sorts through the ages.

    He realized his love for observing the minutiae of life was a continuation of hundreds of years of human curiosity.

  2. Why rent an audio guide when you can have one walking next to you?

    We spent a great deal of our trip hanging out at various beaches and rock pools that adorn Wellington’s spectacular coastline. Forming the sensory backdrop to this experience, alongside the shrieks of seagulls and lapping waves, was Jordan’s matter-of-fact commentary. It was as if I was living in my own Attenborough-narrated documentary, except I never knew if the facts needed verifying. What was scientific fact, and what was the conjecture of an imaginative kid?

    For example, was that oval-shaped shell really called a ‘chiton’? Were they really edible? (I had no idea then, but Google has since told me that the answer is ‘yes’ to both.)

    I really don’t know, but I suppose that’s besides the point. It was great fun just getting a glimpse into his mind and all the thoughts swirling in them.

  3. Big brother, little brother

    Another bonus of traveling with a science-obsessed kid? When he decides to play teacher to his younger brother, creating that happy state of affairs that all parents treasure—both keeping each other out of mischief.

    As three-year-old Jonah was happily plucking sea snails from the rock pools and casually tossing them aside, Jordan patiently explained the rules of engagement in wildlife observation.

    “Leave them how you found them, don’t harm them!”

    As this was repeated multiple times, across multiple rock pools and beaches, I managed to complete a giant crossword in my magazine—triple win!

  4. A record of your holiday

    Young scientists enjoy recording down their observations. While this may not hold true for all kids, it certainly does for mine. Whether it’s a Google presentation or an old-school paper scrap book, our holidays and trips have been enshrined for posterity.

    Of course, we may not have all that many pictures of the food we ate or the people we met, but we do have a picture of every single animal we saw at the Wellington Zoo, and drawings of the starfish that were minding their own business one sunny April afternoon.

This article is from a monthly column called Mushroom Mum. Click here to see the other articles in this series.


Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo: Dora Yip.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Dora Yip lives in Dunedin, New Zealand, and is mom to six-year-old Jordan and two-year-old Jonah.

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