Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Joel Egbert, Camp Director
The night time is the right time. Why does it get so dark so early? We are approaching winter solstice, a time each year where Earth is angled as far away from the sun as possible. This means shorter days and longer nights. It will occur between December 21 and 22 and Keystone Science School is here to help you prepare for all of this wonderful night!
How do we prepare? This is a time to open your eyes. Now that its getting darker much earlier there is a chance for you to see things you’re not used to seeing. Our bodies are ready for less light. We have special cells in our eyes that allow us to see in the dark. These cells are called rods because of their shape. Rods react to the smallest increase or decrease in light. Rods contain a photosensitive pigment that allows them to react very quickly, however for the 90 million rods in each eye to all be ready for darkness, it takes a few moments.
Try this: With an adults supervision light a candle in a dark room. Once the candle is lit, cover one eye with your hand or an eye patch. Take turns telling stories for about 10 minutes. Make sure your looking at the candle with your uncovered eye. Blow out the candle and carefully look around the room. What’s different? Blink one eye at a time, from left to right. Now do the same thing with the lights on in the room. One eye has it’s rods activated while the other doesn’t.
How do animals prepare? Summit County is home to many wonderful creatures that love the night time. If you’re very quiet and turn off your flashlight, you may see a few. Nocturnal animals are animals that spend most of their day out at night. They usually have a very keen sense of smell, hearing and sight. Nocturnal animals have millions of more rods than you or I do - except for bats. Yes, Summit County is home to a few types of bats, specifically the Big Brown Bat, and that’s really what it’s called. However, there’s not a lot of bats due to the high country not having a lot of a bats main food source - flying bugs. Maybe we can find a bat that thinks Mountain Pine Beetle taste like candy? Bats have eyes, but don’t rely on them like we do. The Big Brown Bat uses echolocation to navigate the skies over our ski areas. Echolocation uses sound to see. When a bat screeches that sound escapes their body in waves, these waves move forward and all around until they come into contact with something. A moth. The waves bounce off, carrying the shape of the moth’s body back to the bat’s sensitive ears within 6 thousandths of a second. The bats just “heard” one of its favorite treats and knows exactly where it is. Sorry moth.
Try this: Grab some friends for this great game. Make a circle of people around 2 others. Inside the circle should be one person that has a blindfold on and another that does not. The person with the blindfold is our mighty Big Brown Bat there person without is the moth. Make sure there is nothing that will hurt the bat or break inside the circle. The circle of friends around the bat and moth are there to keep people safe and in bounds. They must remain silent. The game begins when everyone is ready. When the bat says “squeak” the moth replies with “squeak”. The moth doesn’t want to get caught, so must avoid the bat without touching them. The bat is trying to carefully catch the moth by tagging them. Once the moth is caught you can switch places until everyone gets a turn.
How do parents prepare? With all this extra nighttime it can be tough finding things to do. Look into stargazing, night hikes, and moonlit nordic skiing or snowshoeing. Avoid getting into the habit of coming home and watching TV. Those rods are sensitive cells and as one gets older those cells die off due to erratic light exposure i.e. TV and computer screens. Light a fire, read a book, or enjoy the company of family and friends. Children tend to go to bed earlier during the winter solstice. This is due to increases in melatonin. A chemical found in plants and animals. For us melatonin initiates a sleep response. This is attributed to that photosensitive pigment I mentioned earlier. As the pigment reacts our bodies release relative amounts of melatonin. As the day becomes dim, our heart rate slows, our body temperature lowers, we get drowsy, and eventually we go into a wonderful slumber. The process is the same for children. Avoid unnecessary light as this can disrupt the flow of melatonin and cause irritability. If there is too much bright light exposure the flow of melatonin can come to a halt resulting in a restless night. Ease your child into the process. Read to them, play calming music, or count the stars.
Try This: Get your child comfortable at night without Mom and Dad. Children as young as 1 1/2 years can start spending the night away from home. This should become a regular routine at age 3. By age 5 your child should be begging for slumber parties. Why is this important? Separation anxiety is a very real thing for young children. It’s a two-way street, if Mom and Dad show stress about a child sleeping away from home it is translated 10 fold to a anxious child. Start of with single nights with Aunts and Uncles or Grandmas and Grandpas. Progress up to a close friend of the family, someone close but not as connected as a relative. Eventually try having your child stay with a friend from school. This is a huge test. A friends home may seem the most foreign. Different smells, furniture, and voices all support this very different challenging experience. Finally, Keystone Science School highly recommends a sleepaway camp experience. Multiple nights, with different people, in a very different place create an formidable challenge with huge rewards. Children must develop coping skills early. These skills can only be learned in the absence of a parent. Your child will be more independent and ready for the real world. The two times in a person’s life where homesickness strikes hard is summer camp and freshman year of college. Believe in your child’s success and it may just happen “overnight”.
Keystone Science School offers 3 night to 5 night camp experiences. Go to www.keystonescienceschool.org for more info.
Joel Egbert is the Camps & Retreats Director of Keystone Science School. He can be reached at email@example.com