How to Start a Kids Group: Lesson 1 – Find a Kid

September 24, 2009

TickTock asked me to go into a bit more detail on Skeptikids:  how we organized, how we got into the schools, how much time commitments are a problem, etc.  I’m going to try to give some advice on how to do a DIY Kids Science and Skepticism group over the next few posts.

One comment I hear a lot is, “I would love to start something like this, but I don’t know enough like minded parents.” You are selling yourself short by operating only within families of self-identified Skeptics.  This isn’t a church group-there’s no common belief system required.  Only a common interest in Science is needed, the rest follows on its own!

So the first thing you need to start a Kids Program are- Kids!  Go after kids of your friends and friends of your kids.  Build up a group of about 6-10 children if you can.  At this size, you can keep things small, flexible and cheap.  More importantly, a small group early on can act as a sandbox for you to figure out what they like, what works, logistics etc.

If you want to grow bigger though, there is no better way than working with the schools.  I’ll go into more detail about how to do that on a separate post, but let me just say that in my experience,  ANY school would welcome a science and critical thinking program.  If you have a clear program with simple, laid out objectives, you will find yourself very well recieved.

I have more interested kids and adults than I can handle, and I market mostly to the general public.  In fact, I don’t really know any “Skeptical Parents” where I live.  Don’t forget that only a few of us identify ourselves that way, but pretty much all people consider themselves critical thinkers, and most people are interested in technology.  So Don’t Limit Yourself!

Lesson 2 coming soon!

Poli-Sci for kids

September 16, 2009

Did you know 95% of all statistics are made up on the spot?  Actually,  I made that up.  I rarely trust any statistics or polls I see on TV.  But bad polls come in a  close second to my biggest pet peeve:  The Pundits.

Media people on the left and right are making lots of money by being as divisive as they can.  Want a lesson in logical fallacies?  Watch any cable news channel from 4-10pm.  You’ll get it all:  cherry picking, straw men, arguments from ignorance, arguments from authority… You can even see celebrity endorsements of political viewpoints.   Rest assured,  The Truth takes a back seat to ratings. It seems to me that calm, reasonable, evidence based opinions don’t sell very well.

The good news is, this can be a great teaching tool for kids, especially tweens and teens.  If there is a single topic that interests them, You can use it as a teaching tool.  Let them look up the facts and form an opinion.  Play Devil’s Advocate but stick to the facts.

THEN turn on the TV and play a game I like to call Count the Logical Fallacies!

The challenge as a parent though, is that You may end up questioning your own political views and how you formed them, or just as likely, your kid may disagree with you!

If You have found yourself debating politics with your kids, or if You have used TV- especially political talk shows- as a teaching tool for Skeptical Inquiry, let us hear about it!

Stargazing for $20 dollars or less

September 16, 2009

I’m sure many of You readers have heard about the Galileoscope by now,  and I thought I would give a short review.

First of all, it is a good telescope.  It assembles easily and is very durable, a needed feature when dealing with kids.  It produces very clean images.  We have been having fun looking at Jupiter and its satellites every night for over a week!

Some things to be aware of:

  1. You have to put in a little practice sighting objects in the sky and then focusing on them.  It took me about an hour to get really good at it.
  2. You really should consider a good camera or telescope tripod.  Even if You get good and hand sighting and focusing, your kids will likely get frustrated before they get to see anything cool!  The key is steady legs and as little shaking as possible.
  3. The telescope produces an upside down image.  Not a big deal, but something You have to get used to.
  4. The Galileoscope website also has an observing guide that is very helpful and easy enough for kids to read.

If you or your kids are new to astronomy, this is really a great point of entry!  The scopes cost $20, and they are even less if you are gifting a scope to someone else.  With optics good enough to observe our moon and every planet in the solar system, its a steal!

There is a little practice needed, so when You get your scope, take some time with it and familiarize yourself with the sky. You will be glad You did, and Your kids will love it!

Return of the Cub Scout Post – apologies ad infinitum

September 15, 2009

It has been a few days since I posted about my personal delima with our scout leader

Here’s what I did about it.  I hope it’s somehow helpful for you.

I called “Big Phil” and explained very nicely that our family was not Christian, and that while ending a prayer in Jesus’s name at a Cub Scout meeting did not offend me personally, I think it goes against BSA rules and would appreciate it if we could keep things as general as possible.

“Phil” said he absolutely would, thanked me for calling, sincerely hoped he didn’t offend me, so sorry so sorry etc.  And I reminded him again that I was not offended, just concerned that the pack would become sectarian.

“Phil” then gave me a shocker:  he said he was glad that I called him, because last year someone QUIT over this instead of calling him about it! Why, that would make me think that maybe adding Jesus to a cub scout prayer is not a productive use of time!  I made it a point to say so.

“Phil” did ask me what my religion was, and I told him it was personal and not relavant, and would rather keep things nice and general.  He didn’t push it, so I guess we’re in a Don’t Ask Don’t Tell agreement.

As for the other issues that were brought up by some well thought out comments:

Yes you can start your own group, and I have already. There are also some great groups mentioned in the other comments, and there is also a group called Adventure Scouts that welcomes all children.

This was a particular thing my youngest boy wanted to do.  I made a decision to compromise myself so that my 6 year old doesn’t have to fight the good fight just yet.  Soon enough, he will understand that people really do believe in gods and no its not just a thing you say to the flag.  But right now all he sees are cool uniforms and patches.

Did I mention the Fluff / Sour Patch Kids stuffed pita pockets?

Big “Phil” let me down

September 11, 2009

So I’m a  non-religious dad.  And its usually not a problem for me or anyone else.  Until now.

My son wants to join the Cub Scouts.  He wants to go camping, and he want to make Marshmallow-Fluff-and-Sour-Patch-Kid Pita Pockets (I’m not making that up).  He wants to play with his friends.

I decided to join, fully aware that I would have to sign him up and in the process sign a document that includes the statement that belief in a god is needed to grow into the best kind of citizen.  I don’t accept that at all, but I chose to sign the paper.  Why?

  1. Because my 6-year-old could care less about all of that.
  2. Because the guy running the show, Big “Phil” is a great guy and everybody loves him! (name changed out of respect for “Phil”)
  3. Because the document I signed clearly stated that the BSA is completely Non-Sectarian.

So okay.  Fine.  The Boy Scout Promise claims to honor “my God and my country.”  I can live with that.  I don’t hide my children from religion.  I explain it.  I let them know about the different beliefs.  I let them ask questions and I answer them.

Imagine my surprise when, at the end of the second meeting, we end in a prayer and afterward, Big “Phil” goes on to ask if anyone is NOT a christian, and would it be okay if from now on we close the prayers in Jesus’ name.

Sectarian Much?!

Big “Phil” went on to say that he did not want to make anyone uncomfortable, if anyone had a problem with it they could call him at home later and he wouldn’t do it.  But I shouldn’t have to call him and tell him this is inappropriate.  He should know better. Closing a prayer in Jesus’ name is sectarian.  It goes against the BSA rules as I understand them.  And I don’t think that changes even if everyone in the group is christian.

This is my one problem with believers.  Some of them – not all – will put their faith before rules that they have agreed to.  Some will even break the law to do it.  I give You exhibit A and exhibit B.

I don’t care what You believe.  Your mind is your own.  So is mine.  But don’t tell me that morality and wisdom are born out of “fear of the Lord” while you essentially lie for Jesus.  Or force kids into baptism against their parents’ will for Jesus.  Or ignore a court injuction for Jesus.

So now I have to call Big “Phil.”  I’m torn between telling him that Yes it bothers me, its sectarian and against your rules, or telling him hey look, pray to anyone You want,  just don’t kick us out for politely standing there and not praying with You.

What would You do?

Skeptikids – “Science” is a Verb!

September 9, 2009

Skeptikids is a Hands On, Get Dirty, Do Real Science club for kids.

We believe this is the only meaningful way to keep kids interested in science.  To be specific, we help our kids contribute to real science.

It’s not as hard as You might think.  Around us all, there are real scientists researching something.  And oftentimes, supervised kids can collect data as good as anyone else!  They can do Variable Star Astronomy, they can collect Sunspot Data, they can go on Galaxy Zoo and help classify galaxies, they can perform environmental monitoring, they can help manage and protect certain at risk and endangered species habitats, etc.

Not only can your kids do real science, they can inspire others as well!  And that’s why this year we are appealing to the narcissist in all kids everywhere with Channel Skeptikids: a series of short, 3-5 minute videos, starred by the kids, demonstrating cool science concepts.  Think Mythbusters meets iCarly, going online at TeacherTube for free public use in the classroom.

To be a true Skeptikid, contributing to science and inspiring others is not enough!  Skeptikids are required to throw One Huge Party!  We celebrate Yuri’s Night!

April 12, 1961 marked a pivotal change in human history:  Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space!  We honor him every year the best way we can- we PARTY!

Even here though, the kids learn that they are a part of something much bigger than themselves.  Yuri’s Night is a World Wide Space Party!  This last year our kids were greeted via video and internet from the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Tokyo and the US from other party goers around the world!  Add in a limbo contest,  a Dance-Off, and all the cotton candy and popcorn a kid can eat, and there’s no way you can lose!

2009-2010 will be a great school year for Skeptikids!  We are actively looking for other like minded people around the world that would like to join us, but don’t know where to start, don’t know how to find the kids, and don’t understand all the other things we’ve already ironed out.

If You know someone who would like to start a local chapter of Skeptikids in their area, send them our way.  There’s no cost and only fun to be had!

Hey, who’s the New Guy?

September 8, 2009

So I suppose introductions are in order.  A little about me then.

My name is Jason, I am a very happily married father of four, a self employed Former Marine, and a lover of art and science, and a Card Carrying Skeptic.  I like to know what I know and know how I know it.  I have taken about 34 trips around the Sun so far, and most of them have been great!

TickTock invited me to contribute here after learning about my organisation and meeting at DragonCon recently.  More on that later.  At first I was going to simply write a guest post about Skeptikids and leave it at that, but after meeting TickTock and a couple other SkepticDads in Atlanta, I think I’m in good company here.

I believe that the happiest among us are the ones that have managed to keep their natural curiosity and wonder about the world we live in.  And I think it is a primary responsibility of mine to encourage that curiosity in my kids, and help them to hang on to it.

As I write this at 7:05am, my six year old has come out of bed with his Beginner’s Japanese book in one hand, wiping the sleep from his eyes with the other,  asking me the time in Japanese while trying to write the Kanji on his whiteboard.

So far so good.



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