If it would ever cool off around here, the air would clear enough to see the summer constellations of Lyra and Cygnus brightly overhead each evening. Thanks to the lengthened night, you can also see the winter marvels of Orion, Taurus, and Canis Major each morning. Such is the marvel of autumn stargazing: you can see all the good stuff and get a good night’s sleep in between.
When I took students out for a night walk at PUCS Camp, I pointed out the constellations, and especially the planets, that we could see on that moonlit night. Venus had already set, but Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars brilliantly revealed the plane of the solar system. We then focused our telescope on the moon’s craters and Saturn’s rings. I wish we could plan Camp around a clear night every year!
Invariably, each time I point these nightly wonders out to people, someone asks, “How do you know this?” They’re typically not asking this to challenge my information; they genuinely want to know where it’s coming from. “I just do,” is my typical response. I’ve been staring at the stars since I was little, got my first telescope when I was 11, and wore out the library’s copy of “Find the Constellations.” I still look at sky charts and pay attention to the movements of the sky almost every night.
But it isn’t information I was born with. My love for it is possibly innate, but my understanding of it is not. This took work. I’ve read a lot, studied a lot, watched the sky a lot. Though the journey starts with love and curiosity, mastery, and even enjoyment, are the result of hard work. Loving work… but work nonetheless.
When our kids get frustrated about what they don’t know, we can remind them that mastery is not innate. All we are born with is the raw material: mastering skills, developing understanding, even knowing how to learn, take hard work. There is nothing broken about them if they don’t have a skill or an understanding they wish they had. In fact, thinking you have it all together is generally a greater problem!
Loving something – like writing, singing, or astronomy – means having an internal drive to master it. Often, this love can sustain our curiosity, even when mastery gets tough. But it can never shortcut that mastery. Teach your kids to be patient, and keep at it.