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Mercury is How Big?



“Dad, can you help me with this?”

My younger son, a sixth-grader, was trying to finish a study chart for his final exam in Science. The chart asked for planetary facts, such as diameter,  rotation, revolution, distance from the sun, etc. I told him what I knew.

“Earth is 93 million miles from the sun.”

He wrote that down, then said he needed more. “What’s the diameter of Mercury?”

I’m always amazed at what things my kids think I know off the top of my head. I’ll admit it. I keep a lot of useless trivia on standby. This wasn’t one of those facts. “You’re going to have to look that one up.”

His face twisted sour. “Dad, I need your help. All you’re telling me is to look it up.”

“That’s why you got a Surface for Christmas. Where is it?”

His face grew red. “It’s charging.”

“Grab the iPad,” I said.

“It’s still no help.”

“Just get it.”

He sauntered from the couch and opened the iPad, still fuming at my lack of assistance. He opened a search page and typed in “Mercury.”

I stopped him. “Type in ‘planet diameters’.”

The results yielded several charts, containing not only the diameters but the other information he needed as well. He quickly filled it in. It lasted him until he got to the section on comets and asteroids. At least, then, his questions showed he was trying to research it. I answered them at that point. He finished his homework and headed for bed. After he drifted off to sleep, I wondered about his homework. My wife and I thought getting him the Surface would make things easier for him. However, the idea of actually looking things up is as much an anathema to him as a dinner of broccoli and brussel sprouts. How can you teach kids to use the tools they have?

Any suggestions?

Mercury clipart courtesy of

New Casual_Resized

Walt Mussell primaily writes historical fiction with inspirational and romantic elements. His favorite setting is medieval Japan and he refers to his writing as “Like ‘Shogun,’ but the heroine survives.” He also writes Biblical fiction and is working on a manuscript with a 19th century American setting. He has one published novella in the Christmas anthology, Hot Cocoa for the Heart.

Marilyn Baron - May 15, 2014 - 6:59 am

I remember always asking my mother how to spell words and she would always say Look it up. In our case it was in a dictionary because it was the olden days and there were no computers. As a result I became a better speller because I had to do the work.

Maxine Davis - May 15, 2014 - 8:11 am

Walt, I bet that is an age-old question parents have asked for generations. Not having kids, I can’t say for sure, but I do know I remembered a lot more information if I had to look it up “in the encyclopedias” or my school books.

Walt Mussell - May 15, 2014 - 10:13 am

Marilyn, I used a dictionary. However, I don’t know where I’d be today without spellcheck.

Walt Mussell - May 15, 2014 - 10:15 am


I pored over our encyclopedias for various projects growing up. However, my favorite book was year book that came, for several years anyway, with the contract. Every year, the encyclopedia company would send out a book detailing all the additions that had been added in the previous year (i.e. discoveries that didn’t exist when the original set was puchased).

Connie Gillam - May 15, 2014 - 11:10 am

How about going old school and have them go to the library to look up what they need? That might make them embrace what they have at their fingertips. Maybe. LOL

Walt Mussell - May 15, 2014 - 12:26 pm

Connie, the library is often closed when he suddenly remembers he has homework, though his mother is usualy adept at pressing him to start his homework as soon as he gets home from school.

Pam Asberry - May 15, 2014 - 1:00 pm

LOL, Walt! I don’t know how any of us survived without Google.

Walt Mussell - May 15, 2014 - 2:30 pm

Pam, at least the library doesn’t track our every movement in order to target us with ads.

Carol Burnside / Annie Rayburn - May 15, 2014 - 5:05 pm

Walt, perhaps you could play a Trivia game with them. There are some excellent trivia board games with various subject matters. Find one he’d likely be interested in and make it a rule that answers can be looked up on various devices. It could be that he doesn’t know WHAT to input in order to yield good results. Even learning that could open up a world for him. Praise for learning new things could add self-confidence in himself and the devices. Good luck!

Piper - May 15, 2014 - 5:23 pm


You did right. We are still having this conversation in college, so he’s that much ahead of the others he’ll meet there…:)

And I loved the encyclopedia too!

Priscilla Starling - May 15, 2014 - 6:03 pm

Many people frown on rewards but they usually work. Ex: Every time he looks something up or uses resources, he gets rewarded by either praise or points toward something or time for something he would like to do, etc. You could try it. Rewards are about as varied in type and intensity as you could want.

Walt Mussell - May 15, 2014 - 9:24 pm

Carol, I still have all my old “Trivial Pursuit” games in the basement. Don’t know if that would help, but it’s worth a try. He could look up the answers.

Walt Mussell - May 15, 2014 - 9:29 pm

Piper, I would figure college students would know how to search for things. It’s surprising to hear that it’s a challenge for them.

Walt Mussell - May 15, 2014 - 9:31 pm

Ms. Starling, thanks for dropping in for a visit. What might work is a praise reward incorporated into the Trivial Pursuit game above.

sandra Elzie - May 16, 2014 - 7:46 am

Hi Walt,
Sorry I’m late. Some use negative reinforcement (if you do XXX then you CAN’T DO YYY) but we used positive reinforcement. If you do XXX you GET TO DO YYY) Positive worked a lot better…and was less stressful to the parents.

Sia Huff - May 16, 2014 - 12:44 pm

Each child is different. One responds well to one way, and another to a different way.
Good for you, Walt! You are helping him by making him responsible. Although he may not realize it for awhile. There’s a fine line between helping and enabling. Our job as parents is to raise independent humans who can go out and be productive in the world. It’s not always easy or popular with our kiddos.
The most important thing is he knows that you love him. And that, my friend, is obvious.

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