During our children’s time in elementary school, there was always something happening – a full calendar of things to anticipate. We supported them through book reports, spelling tests, math problems, poems to memorize, and performances to prepare. There were also faith matters, prayers to remember, holiness to embrace, and mysteries to ponder.
In several grade levels, our children participated in the annual science fair. Long-term projects pose particular challenges for young students. The most obvious is the challenge of developing a plan. Often, a plan starts with the end in view – when is the project due? From there, we work back to create timely steps beginning now and leading to finishing on time. Some due dates are non-negotiable. Adults can find this daunting. For children, it takes some coaching. I suspect developing the skill of planning is one of the learning goals.
It is so easy to procrastinate. I’ll think about that tomorrow. I’ll think about thinking about that tomorrow. And so it goes.
I remember last-minute science fair project development the weekend before the due date. Materials covered the kitchen table, a scene one might describe as frantic and creative. There were markers, notebooks, a poster board to design, data to assemble, resources to list, and a display to construct. Of course, the project had to be transportable and then reassembled at school. Hmmm.
Perhaps the most beautiful lesson of this bordering-on-chaos process is that it simulates something about how our lives unfold. It teaches us to draw out meaning from all the details and distractions. It teaches the disciplines of enduring, observing, putting things together, and recognizing the truth we discover about our world. Doing science, even at a young age, gives us a lens through which to view the depth and breadth of God’s creative Spirit. We learn to look carefully, to focus on a small part of an unimaginably immense universe where God is ever-present.
As Pope Francis observed in his encyclical, Lumen Fidei, “The gaze of science thus benefits from faith: faith encourages the scientist to remain constantly open to reality in all its inexhaustible richness.” (para. 34)
I enjoyed watching our young scientists engage with their projects. The world was theirs to discover. In this way, they were learning to be open to God’s creation, find a foundation for prayer, search for holiness, and wonder at mystery.
Let our family prayer be in the spirit of the psalmist,
“How great are your works, LORD!
How profound your designs!” (Psalm 92:6)