Monday, December 21, 2009

Connecting physical activity, neighborhood exploration, data systems, civic responsibility and parental involvement in the mind of a child

My daughter Maggie just turned five years old. She's intellectually curious, smart, a quick study, and very easily bored. It's a deadly combination: as soon as she grasps the very basics of an answer to a question she might have, she presumes mastery and moves on. Frankly, she gets that style from me: I've only learned in late years, and always the hard way, that practice is necessary for mastery. Maggie has no real concept of systems and how things work on a bigger scale than what she can see in front of her, but I think that she might take to it with a vengeance, given guidance.

A couple of months ago, Maggie's preschool class covered the concept of citizenship, and they had discussions and activities to help the kids understand the idea. She brought her understanding home and was enthusiastic about it for a time.

I'd been very busy for the last several months, but this fall, I tried to spend more one-on-one time with Maggie than I had been spending. Being back in school cramped my style, so I didn't get to nearly as much as I'd wanted.

For a while now, Nicole and I have been wanting to get Maggie out from in front of the TV more; during the past summer Nicole took her out on bike rides around the neighborhood, which she enjoyed, and I began to think about ways I could hang out with Maggie while being physically active.

For a long time, I've been thinking about street lights. On our street, there are 5 street lights, and two of them are dim. They have been for years. For years, I have been thinking about doing something about it. I've known what to do, too, ever since my neighbors reported a dead light by their house to Centerpoint (local energy delivery company)... but other things always seemed to take priority over this little task.

About a month ago, everything suddenly snapped together in my head. I realized that I could take Maggie for walks around our neighborhood and identify the lights needing repair.

Tonight, I took Maggie out for our first dead-light-identification walk. We covered our street and one street over. On just the two streets (about a half-mile or so), we identified five lamps in need of repair and reported them to Centerpoint on its web site. The repair turnaround is quoted as being as quick as three days.

So far, Maggie seems interested in the process. With any luck, she'll maintain that interest long enough to accomplish a number of things. I'm personally glad for the one-on-one time with her, but more than that I am hoping she will gain several strengths: physical strength and endurance, as we will need to range farther from our home to find more dead lamps; appreciation for everything that's in our neighborhood; a basic understanding of the systems needed to keep track of and service assets (we observed already tonight that the poles are numbered sequentially along the streets and I showed her their corresponding locations on Centerpoint's GIS asset map - but as we were near the computer we were also near the television, and she tuned out... baby steps); an appreciation for the fact that individuals can take direct action to improve community conditions; and finally, hopefully, that being out on a walk with dad can be much better than sitting in front of the tube.