Self-initiated research

If it is hard for me to engage with the boys' interest in computer games, it is equally challenging for my husband to see the point of small, furry pets! Following the demise of our two 4-year-old guinea pigs over the winter, sons 2 and 3 have been very keen on acquiring a new pair. Our second son, who is not keen on number work, rose to his Dad's challenge to work out the cost of keeping these pets for a year / month / week and had no problem in applying his problem-solving skills to work out the figures. He also researched various breeds and decided which type of guinea pig to choose for our new pets. We then tracked down some local guinea pig breeders on the web, and enquired to see whether any litters were expected. Finally, last month, some baby boars arrived and the breeder kindly invited the boys over to see the tiny newborns.

It was an interesting field trip, seeing how this lady kept her guinea pigs and learning about breeding small animals. One guinea pig was very pregnant and son number 2 was able to feel the babies moving inside her tummy. He was thrilled to hear that the babies were born that evening, not long after we left.

Six weeks after their birth, we brought the two baby boars home this week and sons 2 and 3 have been delighted with them. They are very tame and placid and seem quite happy to sit on their laps, even tolerating the occasional prod from youngest brother. Very cute. This is the first pet for our third son and he is taking his responsibilities very seriously. Guinea pigs make good pets for young children as they are fairly easy to take care of and are quite hardy. Also, they can be kept outside, which makes them acceptable to my husband.

Our eldest son didn't want a guinea pig, but his latest interest poses more of a challenge for both my husband and I. He is asking for some degus - small creatures rather like large gerbils - which would need to live inside and jump around their cage in a lively and entertaining manner. They seem to be slightly more complex pets and are recommended for older children. So engaged is our boy with this idea that he has conducted considerable research in our local Pets at Home store where he has questioned several members of staff at length about these small animals and how to take care of them. He has researched all the necessary equipment and compared prices in various stores and online and is now set on saving up for it all. The set-up costs are quite high, so I have suggested this might make a suitable birthday gift. We will see if the interest persists until November. (His Dad will be hoping not!) But what was interesting to me was the way in which our son conducted this research, not because he had to for a homework assignment, but just because his interest prompted it. And our current leanings towards unschooling mean both my husband and I are trying to be more open to the boys' own interests - even if we do not share them!