When grandchildren visit, their homework in tow, it’s essential to get involved. This is not so much to contribute the wisdom of venerability, as an extra pair of hands. The latest task was to write about a creature found in the rain forest. Whilst this was a generous topic: open-ended and full of possibility, there was, perhaps too much choice. Happily, however, the 9-year old in question came with an animal in mind: the black spider monkey.
But where to begin? Well, the heading was easy; as was deciding not to use dark green as a background colour (the instinctive selection). But what next given that none of us knew all that much about the animal in question: I don’t think I even knew there were black spider monkeys. Clearly, as someone noted, I’ve not spent enough time watching DA on the BBC.
But where next, where was the information to come from? A search for black spider monkey on-line resulted in so many links that it was like presenting a starving animal with a menu. Wikipedia was rejected (by me) as completely unreadable, despite and because of its 37 footnotes.
Fortunately I then remembered the NAEE website and its regular features on the work of Arkive in Bristol. Would this have a page on the black spider monkey? Would it be nicely structured and set out? Would there be headings? Could it be understood by a 9-year old? Would there be pictures? I knew, from past browsing (and – a long time ago – past involvement when it was being set up) that the answer to most of these questions would be ‘yes’ – and so it proved.
It was then that the tricky business began – the selection and abstraction of information – and it’s representation on the page. I’d forgotten how daunting such everyday skills feel when they are being developed. But we persevered, and in the end we all came away with more than information and insight about the black-spider-monkey [ateles paniscus] than I dared to hope. And the homework, I hear you ask? Did it get Alpha++ (or whatever is deemed most appropriate in the north London borough in question). Well, I didn’t ask because it was the task that mattered not someone’s view of the outcome. However, I acquired some Woodcraft Folk points along the way.