Kids in Exploring caves

Creating an Enthusiast

October 2022

Written by Jenny

Parents and grandparents often ask how they can encourage children to be interested in the physical world around them. One way is to provide multiple opportunities for children to engage in rich experiences. This alone may not produce the results we hope for, just because we enjoy an experience does not mean that our children or grandchildren will enjoy it in the same way that we do. There are ways however to build excitement and engagement over time.

When I reflect on trips I’ve planned that did not spark enthusiasm in the way I’d hoped for, I realize that too often we take for granted what a child already knows about a space. For example, we might expect our son or daughter to be interested in caves because we tell them caves are interesting. In our simple statement, we rob them of the opportunity to become interested in caves. Instead of telling them to be interested, we can provide ways to spark their interest. 

Photo of educator surrounded by kids in barn

Books and stories are a fabulous way to include children of all ages in both entertainment and relationship building. Study after study demonstrates the importance of reading books to and with children. Sharing a mix of fiction and non-fiction books helps a child develop an expectation. Providing something to think about, and a way to connect with an experience before arrival, or to review a visit afterwards. Discuss what the child finds most interesting, what special features do they hope to see or experience?  Share your hopes, what do you hope to find? Engage in genuine conversation and connection with them, this is not a quiz!

In the caving example, you and your child might read stories that take place in caves, use non-fiction books to learn about various formations, or use reference books to make a list of specific formations to look for. You might also compare or contrast different caves using literature, videos, or field trips to various locations. Maybe you create a family bucket list of caves you want to visit, and why you want to visit them. Do you want to see the shapes inside? Are you enticed by the different colors of calcite or other minerals?  Is someone interested in learning about the animals, or lack of animals, within a cave system? Are you curious about what a cave smells like or how it feels when you are inside? Give the child a chance to share what features interest them the most. Build a foundation of shared interest and explore it over time.

Photo of Kids in the Meanders of the cave looking around.
Bird house Kit

Of course, doing this will not force a child to become interested in exactly the same things as you. But you can explore together and find areas you are both interested in. Maybe you came to Cave of the Mounds because you love caves, but while here you discover your children are fascinated with the insects they see buzzing around our various gardens and wooded areas. Catch their enthusiasm and take home a reference book or two, we have several books about local insects available. Use your new books as guides for searching your own backyard or neighborhood park. If one of the many birds caught someone’s attention then pick up a birdhouse, build-a-birdhouse kit, or field guide to bird identification. Research the plants needed to sustain insect and bird populations. Perhaps that initial curiosity about grasshoppers leads to an exploration of plant biology and habitats. Nature interacts in a wide web of interconnectedness, let your child’s curiosity grow in the same way.

Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.

-Zora Neale Hurston

A photo of our Gem Mine with Child sifting through the sand for rocks or fossils.

Ideas for building an enthusiast

Geology and spelunking

  • Tour Cave of the Mounds.
  • Have fun sluicing to uncover a variety of buried gems and fossils. Use the identification keys to learn the names of your specimens.
  • Crack open a geode to see the hidden crystals inside.
  • Take home a geology book or two. There are many to choose from.
  • Go on a fossil hunt at Cave of the Mounds.
  • Walk on the trails and look for geologic formations, use a map to help you find them,
  • Read the information cards in the Quarry’s Edge gift shop.
  • Discuss what you learned on the tour, research follow-up questions and new curiosities that arise.
  • Journal your experience, compare and contrast other caves you have visited or rocks you have investigated.
  • Have fun exploring rocks and caves in person and through literature.
Red headed woodpecker at Cave of the Mounds

Birds, insects, and other wildlife

  • Before or after your cave tour, look or listen to some of the many birds or insects on the grounds. 
  • Talk about what you saw or heard. What kind of space housed small birds? Large birds?  Did they have the same body or wing shapes?  Why might birds be so different from each other?
  • What about insects, did you notice insects and birds in the same spaces, or different spaces?  Did you see them together in one place?  Why might that be?
  • Bring home a bird or insect book to help identify birds and insects in your neighborhood. Do you think you will find the same or different creatures from those at Cave of the Mounds?  Why? Record your predictions, and your actual observations.
  • Choose a keepsake birdhouse to bring home and see who takes up residence.
  • Start a field journal for birding experiences or insect hunting. Compare journals with friends or family members. Are you noticing the same things?  Does location seem to impact what you see or hear or smell? What kinds of habitats are best for finding birds, insects, or other wildlife?
  • Find a special necklace or earrings to share with a loved one, or for yourself. We have several birds, butterflies and sea creatures to choose from.
  • Start a literature collection of outdoor skills to help you prepare for field experiences outside.
  • Join local organizations that support birds and wildlife. Have your child help research organizations and decide together how you might become involved or make a donation.
  • Visit and observe the same location throughout the year to witness changes in habitat, how does that impact the insects and animals you find?
Photo of class leading to barn

Trees and plants

  • Walk the trails after your cave tour.
  • Put together a book collection on gardening, tree identification or the plants of Wisconsin.
  • Find one of the beautiful leaf creations in our gift shop to take home to decorate your space.
  • Choose a bird or insect book to bring home and explore the connection between plants and animals.
  • Peruse the seed collections and native prairie plant kits, see what can help you start your own prairie or garden project.
  • Support prairie restoration here at Cave of the Mounds buy purchasing seed or plants to take home.
  • Record observations of the same location throughout the year. What patterns do you notice?  What stays the same, what changes?  What do you predict will happen next? Research to find out more about the observations you have made.

Most importantly, have fun!  A curious view of the world sparks interest and leads to countless questions, observations, hypotheses, experiences, and memories for you and your children and grandchildren to share for years to come. An inspired child, or adult, goes on to make great discoveries.