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Here’s a recent conversation in my house with my eldest son about a school physics project:
Son: I have to drive over to my friend’s house to finish our catapult.
Me: Is is a catapult or a trebuchet?
Son: We didn’t have time to do anything complicated, so just a catapult.
What occurred to me later is that my son already knew the difference between the two types of long-range medieval weapons and he wasn’t surprised that I knew, either.
My knowledge came from my research into ancient and medieval weapons for the fictional world in my Seneca alternate history series. His came from his friends, who are interested in all kinds of ancient weapons, starting with different kinds of swords. It’s definitely a fun way to learn science, though I would tend to recommend scale models rather a true-to-history replica. (Though if the zombie apocalypse happens, these might come in handy while battling hordes.)
Science and projects should be fun, and the best place to find fun science books is among geeks. And the holidays? A perfect time to get started, though the life-size models of medieval siege engines might need to wait until the snow thaws.
You can find trebuchets, catapults, and more peaceful medieval projects in Great Medieval Project You Can Build Yourself by GeekMom Kris Bordessa, part of the Books For Geeky Parents eBay collection. And, yes, some of the books are written by geeky people I know personally, such as the three GeekDad books by our own publisher, Ken Denmead, and our own Geek Mom: Projects, Tips, and Adventures for Moms and Their 21st Century Families.
What I want from geeky activity books are not just projects I can build or learn from, but projects that make me smile. I want Totally Irresponsible Science or 50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do) because the kinds of kids I want to raise are the ones who ask questions and push boundaries.
I think it’s pretty cool that my 18-year-old son knows what trebuchets are and can use them in his high school physics class, or that I can bake something in the kitchen and teach my younger son why heat applied to certain ingredients causes cakes to rise or, on the negative side, for blondies to turn out dry.
Parenting can have serious challenges, and as the parent of an autistic child, I know that as well as anyone. But learning shouldn’t be one of them.
It should be fun.