Answer questions… or provoke them?

My family had a deep and extended learning experience as a result of a recent visit to a small, trailside nature center.

It began with this sign:

Shhh! Our female snowy owl is nesting.

On the ground, not far from the sign, I saw this owl:

Snowy owl on ground near hollow log.

In combination, the sign and the owl raised a lot of questions. “Is she nesting now?” I wanted to know. “Does nesting mean building a nest or sitting on a nest?” The owl didn’t look like she was sitting on a nest. She looked like she was sitting on bare ground. With my family, I looked around the rest of the enclosure for anything that might possibly be considered a nest, and didn’t see anything. We speculated about whether she might be sitting on any eggs, right there on the ground. We watched her for a while, hoping for a peek underneath.

I read the permanent label about snowy owls to try to find answers to my questions. I did not find them. I was frustrated and intrigued enough that I decided I would have to read about snowy owls when I returned home.

That night, after I had finished eating my dinner but my kids were still picking at theirs, I brought my laptop to the table, researched snowy owls, and read aloud to my family. This led to a discussion of snowy owl habitat and coloration, and how these are related to their nesting behavior.

So… a successful label, or no? On one hand, the label provoked my family (mostly me) to ask questions, have a conversation, make close observations of the animal and its enclosure, and do further investigation after we went home. On the other hand, I suspect that my fascination with labels makes us atypical visitors, and that many other visitors may have looked for a nest, not seen one, and then walked away.

When you write a label, how do you find the right balance between telling all and inspiring curiosity?

To throw a wrench in the works before you try to answer this question, I’ll add this piece of information: although I remember most of what I researched in response to my own questions and discussed with my family at the dinner table, I don’t remember what I read in the permanent label at the nature center. So trying to make information “sticky” by asking a question and answering it under a flip label, or doing something similar with some form of digital layered content, might not produce the desired results. (Which in this case, may really just have been for us to be quiet, anyway.)


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: