Let the Point Geography Challenge begin
A colleague tells of a new University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (UWSP) student wandering our building on the first day of the fall term and looking for a room that was actually located in the library. Informed of the fact, the student asked where the library was.
Easy, the professor said – just walk out the front door, turn right, and cross the street. It’s the first big building on your left.
“Wait!” cried the student. “Can you show it to me on my GPS?”
Too many of us live that way now; my friend Sarah Ross tells me she knows of teenagers who drive around town but can’t find the airport exit because they don’t know where our airport is. I don’t want my kids to grow up that directionally challenged.
When I “discovered” a small neighborhood park (Parkdale – May 6 column) late this spring after having passed it by multiple times without noticing, I decided I’d do everything I could to help my children at least be able to find most of our local parks, encouraging them to get to know the city in the process.
After a bit too much dawdling, I finally started on the challenge this week.
Coordinating outdoor fun with learning is slightly more complicated with an almost six-year age difference between Elder Son and Younger Daughter. My first exercise sought to take advantage of the natural competition between them while easing into the learning portion of the challenge.
It seemed wise to start small, toss a reward in there somewhere, and hope we had time to talk a bit about finding our way around. Because we live near downtown, Bukolt Park seemed like just the ticket.
“Where’s Bukolt Park?” asked Sam, immediately confirming the wisdom of our exercise.
Bukolt may be the first Stevens Point park we visited, back when Sam was 4 and we had just moved to Wisconsin. I remember a late-summer picnic at the northern end in 2007, looking over the Wisconsin as it widens to a good-sized lake and stretches out to the far horizon. We’ve since been to many other family picnics and group gatherings at the old lodge there, but Bukolt was still clearly an abstract concept to Sam.
After a short explanation, he said, “Oh, yeah,” and we were ready to go.
The three of us shoved off at 10 a.m. Tuesday this week, a beautiful morning perfect for biking (Mom had to work, so it was a three-quarter family outing). When we arrived at the head of the Clark Street Bridge, I stopped us and laid out the next part of the challenge.
“OK, Sam – we’re going to see who gets to Bukolt first,” I explained. “But Lorena and I are taking the Green Circle, and you have to stick to the streets.”
He agreed and took off. We headed down the hike-and-bike path through Pfiffner Pioneer Park as I explained to Lorena that Sam would probably be faster, but with any luck wouldn’t know the most direct streets to Bukolt and we’d win.
She was already a bit cranky and defeatist, so I sweetened the pot by promising enough for an ice cream if we got there first. This is, of course, a tremendous sacrifice, as it means I’ll likely have to accompany her on some future bike ride that ends with an espresso-chip cone – just one of the little indignities fathers sign on for.
Sure enough, as we approached the old warehouse on the northern side of Pfiffner, we saw Sam zipping along Franklin Street with a good lead on us. Lorena was crestfallen, but I told her he might not know to turn north on Forest Street (he’d already passed Grant), meaning he’d have to double back when reaching the end of the road at the Franklin Street boat ramp.
So it was. We saw him heading back east down the alley between Franklin and Washington, and I knew he might get too hurried and repeat his mistake on any of the next three east-west streets around the Bukolt baseball field, possibly meaning even more backtracking.
We biked through a small flock of geese and rounded the big curve into Bukolt proper, looking ahead to the Skate Park, our agreed-upon destination. As we neared it, Sam was not visible, so it didn’t take much urging to speed up Younger Daughter.
It turned out to be unnecessary. We were a strong 7-8 minutes ahead of the good-natured Sam, who laughed when he arrived and didn’t begrudge his sister’s victory.
Emy J’s: no problem to find
After playing around on the ramps and humps at the Skate Park, we headed for Emy J’s – not part of Lorena’s reward, she’ll have you know – and celebrated with ice cream.
The kids led the way, and I could tell from our discussions that they were paying a bit more attention to how to arrive at our favorite Green Circle refreshment stop. They knew the general direction, but with visual obstacles between us and their goal, it was easy to see they were challenged by determining exactly where to turn or how many blocks to go.
Inside, we had a couple of chocolate shakes and some peanut-butter chocolate chunk in a bowl, talking about why it’s important not just to know generally where a place is, but how to map it out in your head or find it on a sheet of paper. I pointed out that thinking about these things and visualizing them not only helps people find their bearings, but explains how to get somewhere or understand someone else’s directions.
We talked about the rest of our challenge – Sam will be heading off on his own or with friends to collect video documentary of local parks, while Lorena will go along with me, and we’d come up with some different tasks for her.
We discussed the next day’s breakfast, when we would head to a stop of their choice somewhere near the Convention and Visitors Bureau, where we’d obtain maps and learn about local attractions. Those maps will be an important part of our remaining summer outdoor activity, including an as-yet-unformed mapping test I’ll give before school starts.
“But I get the ice cream still, Daddy,” Lorena reminded me.
If she insists, I suppose.