About this Site Why "Salt the Sandbox"? Search this Site For Parents For Teachers For Home Schoolers Home

Salt the Sandbox

About this Site

Hi, I'm Eric Gyllenhaal, Aaron's and Ethan's Daddy.  I developed this Web site for younger kids to use together with their parents.  My target audience for Salt the Sandbox is other families with kids who are passionate about collecting.  I'll know the site is a success if these families leave their computers behind and spend more time working on their passions!

bullet

Why I created this Web site

bullet

My rules for developing this Web site

bullet

Who I am, and how my background helped me develop this site

bullet

What I've learned from living with my kids

   

Why I created this Web site

My inspiration for Salt the Sandbox came from several sources:

bullet

Surfing with my kids.  My kids love surfing the Web in search of the things they love -- but there aren't many subject-specific Web sites designed especially for young kids.  This site tries to fill that gap, for at least a few subjects.
  

bullet

Reading with my kids.  My kids also love books -- especially picture books about their passions.  These books have inspired many of the features you will find on my Web sites.
  

bullet

Meeting other parents.  Every once in awhile I get to talk with other parents who have kids like mine.  By using this Web site as a lure, I hope to reach other parents who support their children's passionate interests in nature, or cars, or whatever.  If you are one of those parents, please e-mail me at Webmaster@SaltTheSandbox.org.
  

bullet

Thinking about my parents.  My Mom died a few years ago, and my Dad died ten years before her.  I've been thinking about the things they did to support my childhood passions, and about the ways I've grown to follow in their footsteps.  This site is dedicated to their memories.
   

bullet

Thinking about my first mentor:  Bert Fleming.  Elberta W. Fleming started what became the Lake Erie Junior Nature and Science Center in her basement.  For more than a decade, she was my mentor as I first volunteered and then was employed at what we called "The Museum."  Bert helped shape my passions for science and collecting, and she even recommended me for my first "real" job, at the Children's Museum in Indianapolis.  As I sit here in my basement, working on my Web sites, I can't help thinking about Bert!

   

My rules for developing this Web site

I don't know very much about how other parents use the Internet with their younger children, so I've based Salt the Sandbox on what seems to work for me and my kids.  Here are some rules I've been following as I develop this site:

bullet

Tell a story.  Make it a true story, about a real person that the target audience can identify with.
  

bullet

Tell it with photos.  Use lots of large, detailed photos, even thought they take time to download.  (In other words, make it like a children's science book!)
   

bullet

Use words to support the photos, and not the other way around.
   

bullet

Write to be read aloud.  That's not my natural style, so I have to work hard to get it right.  But I really want people to read my words aloud to young children.
    

bullet

Keep sentences short, but don't avoid all sophisticated words.  Passionate kids need a large vocabulary, so they can talk about their interests.
   

bullet

Keep it simple, but not too simple.  Kids with passionate interests want to know the details, even if they can't always understand sophisticated ideas.
  

bullet

Don't be afraid to go deep!  To my way of thinking, the Web was designed to satisfy people with intense interests.
    

bullet

Connect to the real world.  Tell stories that give kids and parents ideas about things they can do in their homes and neighborhoods -- and provide background and materials that will give deeper meaning to the things they may have already done.
  

bullet

Include activities -- especially things you can print!  My kids love to print out what they find on the computer!
    

bullet

Help young kids surf on their own.   Both my kids want to use the computer on their own.  I've been experimenting with a simple, graphical navigation bar that will help pre-readers and early readers explore this Web site on their own (but with parents reading over their shoulders and keeping them out of trouble!)
   

bullet

Don't give advice, just share experiences.  Maybe I've read too many books and articles about parenting -- I'm just burned out on the whole concept of getting and giving advice.  I'll tell you what we did, but I don't know you, your kids, or your situation.  It's up to you decide what, if anything, you will do with what I tell you.
   

bullet

Learn from experience.  I'm stumbling along with my Canon PowerShot S10 digital camera and Microsoft FrontPage 2000, trying new things and then trying to learn from my mistakes.  Any feedback from you would help make things better.  Again, here's my address:   Webmaster@SaltTheSandbox.org.

    

Who I am, and how my background helped me develop this site

Currently, I'm a stay-at-home Dad who works part-time as a museum consultant.  Here's some more background information:

bulletI'm a lifelong amateur and autodidact.  For most of my life. I have cycled through consuming passions every five years or so -- starting with reptiles and amphibians, then insects, ecology, birds, native plants, sea life, fossils, rocks and minerals, archeology, and Native American studies.  Even though I've earned degrees in some of these subjects, I still feel more like an amateur and an autodidact than anything else.  Now I get to relive my earlier passions with my kids -- and develop new ones, too!
  
bulletI've spent almost 40 years in the museum field -- which is pretty long when you consider that I'm only 50!  I started volunteering at age 11 at what was then called the Lake Erie Junior Nature and Science Center.  I've also worked at the Children's Museum in Indianapolis and the Field Museum in Chicago.  Now I consult with several different museums and zoos.  
  
bulletI've got lots of degrees.  I've got bachelor's degrees in Interpretive Work in Natural Resources and Geology, and a Ph.D. in Paleontology and Stratigraphy. 
  
bulletI've done Web site evaluation and audience analysis.  My recent consulting work with Selinda Research Associates has included evaluations and critical reviews of educational Web sites, plus analyses of the audiences who use these sites.  One reason I did this site:  I got tired of evaluating other peoples' sites, and I wanted to make my own!

   

What I've learned while living with my kids

I've always been interested in how kids (and other people) learn, and living with Aaron and Ethan has given me a chance to think about learning in new ways.  I've been revisiting some of the university libraries where I used to hang out and exploring the scientific literature about learning in early childhood.  Over the next year or two I'll be discussing what I learned on these Web pages and in articles like ones I recently published in Chicago Parent (see below).

Here are some of the themes I've been exploring:

bullet

Childhood passions are a bridge to learning about the larger world.  When my kids develop an interest, it really dominates their lives.  For months or years, most of what they learn about the world seems focused through the lens of their passion.  One of the few researchers who have studied this topic is Kevin Crowley of the University of Pittsburgh < http://www.kevincrowley.com/ >, who writes about the "islands of expertise" that kids develop when they pursue their passions.  If you can read Adobe Acrobat files, you may want to download Dr. Crowley's first article on this page < http://www.kevincrowley.com/olpubs.html >.  I published an article about Crowley's ideas in the September, 2002, issue of Chicago Parent.  It's called, "Islands of expertise: Why do children become such specialists?Here's an online version:
   < http://saltthesandbox.org/ChicagoParentArticle2.htm >

  

bullet

A passion for collecting.  Young kids can be the most passionate of collectors.  That's my observation, and I've heard it confirmed informally from a variety of sources.  I published an article about kids' passion for collecting, called "Aaron's Treasures: How to nurture your child's urge to collect (without letting it drive you nuts),"  It was published in the July, 2002, issue of Chicago Parent, and you can read an online 
version here:
   < http://saltthesandbox.org/ChicagoParentArticle1.htm >

Here are some online articles about kids as collectors:
   < http://www.sesameworkshop.org/parents/advice/article/0,4125,1027-1-300,00.html >
   < http://flfl.essortment.com/collectablescol_rzzv.htm >
   

bullet

Learning names and classifications of things.  After reading some of Howard Gardner's work on the "Eighth Intelligence," I think of Ethan as my "naturalist" and Aaron as my "un-natural naturalist."  Here are some online articles about the naturalistic intelligence:
   < http://www.uwsp.edu/education/lwilson/learning/natintel.htm >
   < http://www.blarg.net/~building/strategies/mi/campbell.htm >
   < http://www.blarg.net/~building/strategies/mi/hoerr1.htm >
   < http://www.blarg.net/~building/strategies/mi/barkman.htm >
   < http://www.blarg.net/~building/strategies/environmental/meyer.htm >
   < http://www.blarg.net/~building/strategies/environmental/wilson2.htm >
    

bullet

Preschoolers' fantasy play.   Before Ethan, it had never occurred to me that kids' collections -- shells, polished rocks, whatever -- could play such an important role in their fantasy play.  I wrote about that briefly in my two Chicago Parent articles, and I'll continue to think, read, and write about it in the future.
  

bullet

Learning about cause-and-effect by asking questions and by reflecting on the same experience -- over and over and over again!  I had heard about preschoolers' persistent questioning -- now I've lived through it for a few years, and it shows no signs of abating.  This is another topic I want to explore in greater depth.

So, stay tuned!

  

About this Site Why "Salt the Sandbox"? Search this Site For Parents For Teachers For Home Schoolers Home

     
Copyright 2000-2003 Eric D. Gyllenhaal
Webmaster@SaltTheSandbox.org

This page is part of the Salt the Sandbox Web. 
Return to the Salt the Sandbox home page.

This page was created on August 26, 2000, and it was last updated on March 30, 2003.