Shaun Gallagher family holding hands
Author Shaun Gallagher and his family.

Like many parents, Shaun Gallagher spent many nights rocking his oldest child to sleep, odd thoughts running through his head. In his case, one of them turned into a book. 

“I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if there was a book of science experiments people could do with their babies?” he recalled. Shaun is a software engineer, not a scientist. But his many years as a journalist taught him how to present complex ideas in ways people could easily understand. 

“Experimenting with Babies: 50 Science Projects You Can Perform on Your Kid” gives parents dozens of ways to test scientific hypotheses on their offspring (no lab equipment required). It did so well that Shaun wrote two more books, “Experimenting with Newlyweds,” and “Experimenting with Kids,” which was published just a few months ago. 

Sean’s oldest child is now 11; he and his wife also have a 9-year-old son and a 5-year-old daughter. All are homeschooled in Delaware, where the family lives—as does president-elect Joseph Biden. 

Shaun shared a secret satellite-launch spot on the East Coast, his hack for successful road trips with three kids, and his advice for families who have suddenly found themselves homeschooling in the pandemic.  

One of my favorite experiments to do with babies…

Has to do with identifying the shape of a spider. Multiple studies have confirmed that babies have a special aptitude for being able to recognize the shapes of spiders, and the researchers who published the original experiments theorized that it’s an evolutionary adaptation. They’ve done other studies on the shape of a rat, the shape of a snake—but spider seems to be a standout. 

When I was younger, I thought Delaware…

Was sort of boring, so not a very attractive place to live. If you wanted any nightlife you would go to Philadelphia or Baltimore. But it is a good place to raise a family in terms of having stability, and we live in a neighborhood that is nice and diverse.

Some of the destinations on our bucket list are…

New York is a big one. I lived there for years, but none of the kids have ever been there. As soon as things get slightly back to normal we’d love to get up there. My wife is from England and my dad is from Ireland, so we also want to go to Europe and show them where their family is from. In college, my wife was in a music group that did a European tour; she fell in love with the Alps, so that’s on our wish list, too. 

We’re very fortunate that…

Even though we live in a small state, there are some great cultural attractions right in our area. There is an estate called Winterthur that’s just outside Wilmington. It has beautiful gardens and a mansion built long ago by one of the du Pont folks. It’s a beautiful area to spend a day. Longwood Gardens is right over the state line in Pennsylvania. It’s really picturesque. 

The other big thing around there is Wallops Flight Facility, in Virginia. They launch satellites from there, and you can see them from as far away as we are. 

What makes a big difference when we’re on the road is…

Audiobooks. The trick there is finding something that all three kids enjoy. They’re 5, 9 and almost 11—that’s a big range. If my wife and I can enjoy it, or at least be able to tolerate it, then we’re good. We’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of the Magic Treehouse series. The author narrates the audiobooks and does a great job. We’re fortunate that our local library has a lot of audiobooks in its collection. 

Because we homeschool, we…

Take the kids on local field trips. Like there is a program run by Delaware’s solid waste authority. You wouldn’t think that would be a real crowd pleaser, but a lot of kids are interested in seeing how trash recycling works. We’ve done truck and tractor events and Winterthur, where you get to touch the trucks. Our kids love that. 

I don’t think anyone is going to pull off a Pinterest-worthy homeschooling year.

My advice for people who are working from home with kids is…

Invest in a good chair. It sounds silly, but it really makes a difference. Also, you definitely need to step away here and there to collect your thoughts and give your body a break. My eye doctor said it’s important to look off into the distance every few minutes rather than staring straight at your screen for an extended period of time. 

Even people who are seasoned homeschoolers…

Feel like they’ve just been tossed in the water this year. I think it’s healthy to recognize that this is a really crazy situation and we’re all just trying to do the best we can. I don’t think anyone is going to pull off a Pinterest-worthy homeschooling year. For us, the main goals are character formation and helping our kids stay healthy and safe. 

To teach our kids about character we…

Look for opportunities where you can have conversations around things like integrity. That’s a tough concept for younger kids to understand until you get into specific scenarios—like questions of fairness. Kids are really good at identifying fair and unfair. They can start to think, here are some situations where I need to think about how I would respond. They’re all lawyers at this stage. 

What I’d like to get from The Expedition is…

Learning as much as I can, because we haven’t done a lot of big travel. But when that time does come we’ll be better prepared. 

What I can give is…

Open ears!

Sara Clemence is a freelance journalist, formerly travel editor for The Wall Street Journal and news director for Travel + Leisure. She's the author of Away & Aware, a guide to mindful travel.

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