Podcast 003: Reading TRUE to Kids

In This Episode: A topic I’ve been wanting to talk about for literally years: should you consider reading This is True to your kids? Lots of parents do — or let the kids read it themselves.

But first, finishing up last week, one more behind-the-scenes tour, of this place:

The Gates Planetarium in Denver (Click to see larger.)

A really neat photo of the Gates Planetarium at Denver’s Museum of Nature and Science. When we were there, we were alone, but this neat panoramic photo (by Greg Downing of xRez Studio, used with permission) is fascinating. First, you can see how flexible the whole setup is: yes, you can use it to explore Earth, too! Second, you can see eight of the projectors that make the magic happen: they shine through the little cutouts in the lower wall, and obviously they have to be set up very precisely so you can’t see the “seams” in the screen where one projector’s image ends, and the next one picks it up. The computer system manages what each projector shows once the aiming is set right.

Jump To…

Show Notes

  • The electro-mechanical Zeiss planetarium projector (shown right), this one located in the Montreal Planetarium. (Photo CC2006 Captmondo, via Wikipedia, click to see larger.) The Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles had one of these (the Mark IV model) from 1964 through 2006, and when I was a kid I thought it looked like a giant ant.
  • Our host asked that I not post photos of the museum’s server room. Sorry.
  • I searched my archive and didn’t find any stories that were about “creepy Austrian dad pedophile kidnappers,” so I’m assuming Elizabeth was speaking figuratively.

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Randy: Welcome to the Uncommon Sense podcast. I’m Randy Cassingham.

Clare: And I’m Clare Angelica.

Randy: We have a leftover topic from last week. We ran out of time when I was talking about behind-the-scenes tours. The one I had to leave out was one in Denver where Kit and I went to the Museum of Science and Natural History where they have a large planetarium. I remember going to planetariums when I was a kid because we were near the Griffith Park Observatory. They had one of these old projectors, looked like a giant black ant that was sitting in the middle of the room. It had all these little holes on it, and they had lights on inside this big thing that would shine little beams of light through the holes and, therefore project the stars onto the dome of the little theater you were in, and they could show you what stars looked like, what constellations were, and all that.

They don’t do that anymore. Now they have digital projectors. The planetarium in Denver has a state-of-the-art, computer-driven, amazing system with this huge dome. You can have, I don’t know, probably a couple hundred people in this place at once, so it was very large. Not only can they show you things like stars, our host started out by showing us the view if we were at the space station.

Clare: Oh, that’s cool. Wow.

Randy: You could see the Earth moving beneath you because the thing is just zipping across the sky. It goes all the way around the Earth in about 90 minutes. Then he said, “Now watch this,” and he backed up a little bit, and now the space station was in our view right in front of us looking down.

Clare: Oh wow!

Randy: It’s an approximately correct rendering of the space station. It showed all of the different modules on there. And I realized that this isn’t just a projection of the stars, it is pretty much anything you want. When I realized that, I asked our host, “How far out can we go?” So he just kept backing up, and backing up, and backing up, not only showing the entire solar system, he backed up outside the galaxy and showed us the entire galaxy.

Clare: Wow.

Randy: It was mind-blowing.

Clare: That’s pretty neat.

Randy: I think he could even go back farther than that and show the whole Local Group and — the Local Group is a bunch of different galaxies that we’re a member of, so just way out there where he was saying, “These little points of light you’re seeing aren’t stars. Those are galaxies.” That’s how far back we were. We popped out to Jupiter to see the Juno spacecraft. We went out to Saturn to see the Cassini spacecraft that’s going to be ending its mission soon. And he could go to any point in time and any point in space and show you what it looks like.

Clare: I’ve never been to a planetarium. I have to go now.

Randy: You’ve got to go. It’Just s mind-boggling. The whole thing kind of felt like Night at the Museum, that movie, because the museum was closed. She works there and could get us in, just popped us in through security. We waved to the security guard and then we were able to walk around in there, and the only other people that were in there were a couple of maintenance workers and cleaners that were finishing up after a long day.

Clare: You got the place to yourself.

Randy: Pretty much. There were no dinosaurs marauding and trying to kill is, but we got to be there. Not only were we in the theater and could see what this amazing projector could do, he took us on the outside of the dome where we could walk around and see the projectors that shine through and create all those pictures, a whole bunch of these gigantic digital projectors that are all tied into this amazing computer room. (He took us into the computer room too. I think we’ll have a picture of that server room on the Show Page.) We could just see all the equipment not only that’s currently being used, but he showed us some racks of stuff that they used to use in the old days in between the giant analog projector and the digital stuff. So it was a really neat tour.

Clare: It sounds like it. I want to go now.

Randy: I’ll see if I can get you in.

Clare: I want a Night at the Museum tour, though.

Randy: You want to be chased by dinosaurs trying to kill you?

Clare: Well, they just want to play fetch.

Randy: OK….

Again, this isn’t about, “Ain’t I cool.” It’s about how cool True’s readers are and the kinds of places they work, volunteer, or even just frequent and want to share. Whether it’s the logistics of moving people and their luggage around at the Oklahoma City airport, straight-up art like the magic at The Magic Castle, the cutting-edge exploration of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, or a museum working really hard to communicate the wonder of discovery in the universe to its visitors. I’m truly honored to be invited behind the scenes to see it all, so thank you so much to Kay, Jim, Glenn, Terry, and other readers who have shared a piece of their world with me and, by extension, the This is True community.

One of the topics I promised we’d cover in the podcast is reading This is True stories to kids. I know, Clare, you don’t have any kids, but you have a little brother. I don’t know if you’ve ever read him any This is True stories, but I think the stories are really instructive for kids. I found out that — just by talking about this in the newsletter — that there are a lot of parents out there that get This is True that either read the stories to their kids, or let the kids themselves read the issues and ask questions or lead discussions or whatever. It’s something I asked readers to tell me about so we could talk about it. I’ve got several letters. In fact, I’ve got way too many letters to use on one show, so I’ve pulled out a couple. Clare, you’ve go the first one there.

Clare: I do. This is from Elizabeth in Detroit. She says, “I’ve been reading all of the Zero Tolerance stories to our 10-year-old for a couple of years. I want to highlight the fact that, too often, educators seem incapable of rational behavior and decisions. This unfortunate tendency is also illuminated by our recent readings of the Free Range Kids blog. It’s one of the reasons she attends a small, private, parent-cooperative, multi-age-classroom school where we say that we teach children how to think, not what to think. You might say that being anti-ZT is one of our family values. And sometimes the dumb criminal stories, if they’re age appropriate and if they end in death, sometimes if it’s not too graphic and is a good illustration of a Darwin Award-type example. You know, they’re funny enough that Scholastic publishes tamer ones for school kids. Naturally, I skip stories that detail more sordid circumstances. We’ve gradually been increasing our daughter’s exposure to and awareness of the world, but since we don’t watch network television, except for some sports, where we pointedly discuss commercials that aren’t always family-friendly, we can monitor her Internet news consumption. For the moment, we’ll stick with teenagers behaving badly resulting in unintended pregnancies, rather than soldiers behaving badly or creepy Austrian dad pedophile kidnappers or whatever. Thanks for being a voice of reason.”

Randy: I’m not sure what the Austrian dad pedophile kidnapper refers to — I can’t remember all the stories that we cover! — but we probably did cover that one, whatever it is.

Clare: I’m sure. I had to hold back a chuckle while reading that.

Randy: You’re allowed. Some of this stuff is pretty darn funny. One thing that I was intrigued by this is she wants to skip stories that detail “more sordid circumstances”; “We’ll stick with teenagers behaving badly, resulting in unintended pregnancies.” So she’s not fully shielding her kid and … Let’s see, 10 years old. That’s a proactive mom, I think, that’s telling her 10-year-old, “This is how you get pregnant when you don’t mean to.” That’s a valuable lesson for a young girl, I think.

Clare: I agree. Well, and boys, they need to know they’re responsible too there in that.

Randy: Yes. There are boys involved. The point, I think, of this is that you don’t have to wait for your kid to be 13, 14, 18 to tell them what the real world is like and give them some examples of people acting stupidly. You can show them what the consequences are, very often, in a pretty entertaining way. I mean these stories are usually kind of light and funny, even if they have very serious topics about them like, say, teen pregnancy, but you can use them in an entertaining way that kids will actually listen to the story. And you know what? You’re sneaking in a lesson, too.

Clare: I’m going to experiment next time my brother comes up and read him … I think I’ll actually read him the whole issue. He’s 11, and I think he would … What he doesn’t understand, he might question, which we can explain to him or try and get him to understand, but I think he … I want to see his reaction.

Randy: That would be very interesting.

Clare: Yeah.

Randy: Maybe we’ll talk about that next week if you have a chance. I’ve got another one that you actually brought to my attention because Greg in New South Wales, Australia, put a comment on his order for a Premium subscription that it was a gift renewal for his daughter Catherine. So I popped him a note and say, “Tell me a little bit about Catherine.”

He replied, “Catherine is currently 13. I think this is her second renewal, so two years of Premium and a couple of years of the free edition before that. She must have started reading them herself at nine years old. Before that, I would use True stories for dinner conversation, but now Catherine is the one who does that.” She’s leading the conversation! “She is also at a fiercely independent school and your articles definitely mesh well with her education. There is a clear message of, ‘Think for yourself,’ in what she learns. It has been quite satisfying to pass This is True onto Catherine and see her joy when a new edition appears each week.”

I did check, and Catherine is still getting it. Greg is still getting it. I mean this was only last Christmas, so no big surprise.

I see kind of a recurring theme here in that these parents have their kids in schools that are teaching thinking as opposed of teaching to the test.

Clare: What struck me with that story just was that she was nine years old.

Randy: Right.

Clare: That’s incredible. She’s going to be a very independent little girl, or a young woman when she gets older, if she’s not already.

Randy: Absolutely. It’s actually kind of humbling to me that parents would think so much of these stories, that these are real-world lessons that kids can tune into because they’re entertaining, and actually learn something about the world and how it really works.

Clare: It shows the trust in the kids too of…

Randy: Oh, that’s a good point.

Clare: …”here’s this story. What do you think?” You’re letting your child think for themselves, see what they figure out after reading such a story.

Randy: I think so many parents kind of hold their breath and they’re afraid that kids are going to ask questions or bring up topics that might be a little bit uncomfortable to talk about. These parents are basically giving the kids examples of, “Here’s something you can bring up.” With Greg and his daughter Catherine, who’s 13, they’re talking about these stories at the dinner table. That’s amazing dinnertime conversation.

Clare: It is, yeah.

Randy: Hopefully, not too much about creepy Austrian dad pedophile kidnappers.

Clare: Yeah. I would be very interested to know what story that is in.

Randy: I’ll have to see if I can look that up, put it in the show notes. That would be an amusing story to find.

Clare: Here’s my other letter. This is from Sarah in Oregon. She says, “I’ve been a subscriber since 1999, sometimes paid and sometimes not, my freshman year of college. My daughters are seven and four, and I read True to them sometimes. I pick and choose the articles to find the ones they would think were funny, like funny names or someone getting caught doing something ridiculous, and some of the ridiculous stories I think they will understand, some of the Zero Tolerance stories especially. My seven-year-old likes to offer suggestions of what would have been the SMART thing to do. She is seven, so she knows everything, of course, but she usually has a good point. When she misses the point, we talk about other ways to look at the situation. I don’t usually read the ones that include violence or shootings. My seven-year-old is very emotionally sensitive and worries about that sort of thing, and my four-year-old interrupts to brag about how she will fight the bad guys.”

Randy: Love that.

Clare: “So reading those to them is usually unproductive.” I do too. She’s feisty.

Randy: I love that. A seven-year-old offers suggestions on what would have been the smart thing to do, which means she knows that what’s happening in the story is far from the smart thing to do. So I think what that is clearly showing is kids know the difference between smart and dumb. When I watched TV cartoons when I was a kid, I knew that the coyote couldn’t really survive falling off a 10,000-foot cliff and landing in a crater at the bottom. I think kids have more common sense than we think and, sadly, I think we kind of beat it out of them as they grow up.

Clare: I don’t think we give them enough credit. I feel very honored to be around my brother as he’s grown up and … because he’s just evolved so much, and he’s very aware. I forget he’s 11 years old or I forget he was five-year-old with some of the statements that he would make. They way he would talk, you’re like, “You’re not five years old. You shouldn’t know these things that are going on in the world, or you shouldn’t know how certain things work yet,” but he does, and he wants to know. When he asks you where babies come from, he wants the answer. He doesn’t want, “Well, the stork brought him.” That does not work for, as far as I’ve seen, for his generation. They want real answers.

Randy: You can kind of give them age-appropriate details. You don’t have to go into all the gory…

Clare: Absolutely. Yeah.

Randy: … step-by-step instructions. Yeah. I think that’s terrific.

Clare: Yeah. He surprises me. I’m looking forward to that experiment. I’m interested–

Randy: Of reading him an issue?

Clare: Yeah. He liked the podcast. He listened to the first podcast we did together, and he thought that was pretty cool, partly because he wants to make YouTube videos, so it’s in his field.

Randy: Right. That’s interesting that he wants to do YouTube videos. So obviously he’s watching YouTube videos and finds them interesting or entertaining or something.

Clare: Constantly watching YouTube videos.

Randy: What kinds of stuff does he like?

Clare: He mostly watches Minecraft shows because he’s very into gaming. How to build Legos–

Randy: An 11-year-old boy is into gaming?

Clare: Right?

Randy: That’s just shocking.

Clare: It’s totally shocking.

Randy: And Legos.

Clare: He’ll watch tutorials on different … mostly game-related stuff. He’ll watch music videos. I don’t know what all he watches, but he’s giggling, so he’s entertained.

Randy: And he wants to make his own.

Clare: Yes. He’s made a couple. I haven’t seen them yet, but he’s made some videos.

Randy: Has he posted them to YouTube?

Clare: I think he’s posted one. Well, the fun part is he is 11 and thinks he knows everything also. He looks at me, and I know how to do some stuff. I’m not the master of anything, but I know how to do some stuff. He’ll rarely ask me, except now he started asking me because he sees that I know how to do various things that he wants to do, whether they’re Internet-based or just over the computer. And so he’s starting to figure out that, “Oh, my older sister does know some stuff. OK.”

Randy: You’re not so dumb after all?

Clare: Right! And I’m blonde, you know. Not as blonde as she looks.

Randy: I think that kind of points to the whole generational thing that when you were growing up, you probably used a modem to get on the Internet, or your dad did, or whatever. Now there’s broadband, so he never lived in a life that didn’t have broadband wifi available for any electronic device he has.

Clare: Yeah. He has no idea what dial-up is. That’s what I remember, and he has no idea. “It doesn’t just come though the air? It doesn’t just come to my phone and my computer and …?” He doesn’t even think that, “Oh, you plug it into the wall and it comes through the phone line and that’s how you get your wifi,” but that’s not in his brain.

Randy: Wild.

Clare: Yeah.

Randy: I, of course, have seen an amazing progression starting with I first started using computers with a teletype that was used as a computer terminal, and that connected with a acoustic coupler modem where you would dial the phone, and I mean dial. It was a circular dial, not a touch tone.

Clare: Oh, wow.

Randy: I even remember the phone number we called, and you’d listen for the answer on the other end, and you’d stick it in the coupler, and then you would be able to communicate with a computer a couple of cities away at 110 baud, which is about 10 characters per second. Which sounds fast — “10 a second? Wow!” But you can read somewhere between 300 and 1,200 characters a second. So you’re sitting there, “Yeah, yeah. OK. … OK, there’s a sentence. OK, good.” What a change just in my lifetime, which isn’t all that long.

Clare: Well, the cool thing about my little brother is that you could explain that to him and he’d get it.

Randy: Really?

Clare: Maybe not entirely, but I mean his brain … It’s incredible to watch his brain work. He’s very mechanical. He can figure out how … He’s been taking stuff apart since he was four. Not necessarily putting it back together, but taking it apart and seeing what the insides look like and how he can fix it and…. He fixed his remote control car, I think, when he was five.

Randy: Whoa.

Clare: With our dad’s help, but he’s pretty … He can kind of grasp the concepts. It’s pretty cool.

Randy: I know he likes tools. That’s something that, when it’s his birthday and I say, “What can I get him for his birthday?” pretty much the answer is always, “You can get him a tool.”

Clare: Tools or Legos. You can’t go wrong.

Randy: Legos, too? OK. Well, tools last longer, I think, than Legos, so maybe I’ll stick with tools.

Clare: They do. They do, although we have a box that’s been passed down through my older brothers that we keep adding to of Legos.

Randy: So not only does he like the online stuff like watching videos and gaming, but he also likes actually working with his hands and doing stuff to physical things and being mechanical.

Clare: For the last, I don’t know, maybe five years, he has wanted to be some sort of engineer, and he wants to go to MIT.

Randy: Well, he’s got a good start on that, it sounds like.

Clare: He does. It hasn’t changed, which usually…. He wanted to be a vet, or an actor, or race…. I mean it changes, but this has stuck, so we’ll see what he does with it. It’s pretty cool.

Randy: Well, I’d love to get more letters from people who are either reading This is True to their kids or, like Greg, who says his daughter must have been reading This is True herself starting at age nine. Do you let your kids read This is True? Do you read it to them? Are there certain stories you hide from them or protect them from that you don’t want them to know about yet? How do you draw that line? How do you decide what they’re going to see? I’d love to have some more letters like this. You can comment on the episode page. You can send me an email. You can contact me through thisistrue.com/contact. Love to hear your stories about what your kids are doing online and what do you think that does for their future? Is it helping them to learn how the world really is?

So that’s it for this week. This is True and the Uncommon Sense Podcast are reader supported by your subscriptions and via Patreon.com/thisistrue. Pledges of even a dollar or two really do help, and pledges at the $4 level will also get you the Premium edition of This is True’s weekly email newsletter, which you might want to share with your kids. The Show Notes for this episode with the links and stories discussed this week are at thisistrue.com/podcast3 — that’s the digit three. I’m Randy Cassingham with Clare Angelica, and I thank you so much for joining us this week on Uncommon Sense. … And we’ll talk at you later.

[Easter Egg]

5 thoughts on “Podcast 003: Reading TRUE to Kids

  1. Legos last longer. (I have all my Legos from childhood, but none of my tools. 🙂 )

    Heh! All of our old Legos are gone, but I still have some of my dad’s tools. -rc

  2. In truth (a concept you appreciate), two of the most notorious such cases occurred in Austria. The most bizarre case was Josef Fritzl, and then the second case was Natascha Kampusch.

    For Fritzl, check out John Glatt’s “Secrets in the Cellar: A True Story of the Austrian Incest Case that Shocked the World.” For Natascha Kampusch’s ordeal check out her own book, “3,096 Days in Captivity: The True Story of My Abduction, Eight Years of Enslavement, and Escape.”

  3. I would love to, at some point, see a followup podcast of this. Perhaps delve deeper into what is blocks from kids at what age and differing opinions around what and when is “age appropriate”?

    I do have more letters on the subject, and will be revisiting the topic in at least one upcoming episode. -rc

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