Friday, August 27, 2021

Ms. Frizzle still has a lot to teach us

The moment the upbeat theme song begins, the nostalgia washes through  me, bringing joyful memories of childhood bliss and delight. The original 1990s show, The Magic School Bus, is truly a wondrous experience (let us refrain from discussing the debacle that is the remake). 

Brought on a desire need for a small break, my recent decision to bring a small dose of "screen time" (and this cherished television series) into our life has filled my children with joy. They eagerly sit, paging through a Magic School Bus book on the ocean. They excitedly watch an episode about ants, entranced by the story. Even though they become more invested in the characters than in the science, I know they're learning good things about the natural world and storytelling. It's a great show. Admittedly, sometimes once I've made my coffee and taken a breath (standing in a room by myself!), I'll sit with my kids for a moment, so that I can enjoy this beloved childhood show once again.  

I forgot just how amazing Ms. Frizzle is. 

The spunky schoolteacher is always ready to teach science, and her clothes speak volumes about the fabulous ways we can craft our wardrobes. Yet, she does so much more. Her zest for life is contagious, and I find myself thinking that, all these years later, I can still learn a lot from Ms. Frizzle. 

Take, for example, her well-known motto: Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy! 

Over and over again, Ms. Frizzle repeats this (and slight variations of it). The poster child for a "growth mindset," she drives home the belief that we need to enthusiastically try, fail, and and try again. She encourages her students (and all of us) to do those scary, exciting, adventurous things. I think of the advice that award-winning Catholic author and speaker Lisa Hendey has given to the contributors at in our virtual gatherings: "Dream big." Her words-and those of Ms. Frizzle-jerk me out of my fears and comfort and remind me that it's okay to try new things, try hard things, and accept mistakes and messiness as part of the normal process. 

And then there's the way she hearkens to the wisdom of others. 

Sprinkled throughout many episodes, Ms. Frizzle quotes distant relatives or ancestors to bring a bit of wisdom or humor into the situation. Regardless of whether these unique characters were spun from her imagination or really existed in the Magic School Bus universe, we can observe the consistent, underlying theme of looking to the wisdom of others. Especially in our modern culture-which experiences a severe lack of mentorship--we need to listen to the wisdom of those who have gone before us. The words of the saints, the lives of historic figures who did admirable deeds, the legacy of relatives. They all made mistakes and were imperfect, but there is still much wisdom that they offer us; wisdom that we can all learn from. 

She encourages the students to dive deeper, search for the truth, and ask questions. 

In one episode, the students are curious about a so-called "sea monster sighting" that a local news reporter has announced. When they wonder about the lack of evidence for this monster, Ms. Frizzle prompts them to ask questions and to find evidence. This leads the students on an expedition that helps them expose the truth behind the reporter's news report. Ms. Frizzle reminds us of what so many saints--from the Apostles to St. Aquinas to St. Thomas More--have shown: it's good to ask questions and dive deeper. As we practice the Faith, we need to dive deeper, to ask questions, to research history, doctrine, Scripture, and Tradition as we continually learn and grow. I think of a man I met once at a library; he mentioned that he grew up Catholic but was put off by the incense and rituals. While I'm sure that many other factors that impacted his drift away from the Church, all these years later, I wish I would have encouraged him to ask why before doing something so drastic as to walk away. Why do we use incense? Why are there rituals? Why do we meet at church instead of staying at home? Why do we even believe in God? It's important that we ask questions and have open and respectful (at times, lively!) discussions with others. It's something Catholics have always done, and it's something we need to continue to do. In fact, I sometimes wonder if converts should be given a card that says "Welcome to the Catholic Church: Researching and Debating since 33 A. D." 

Ms. Frizzle also shows us how to explore the world with wonder and awe.

Whenever her students have an interest or a question about the world, Ms. Frizzle takes the opportunity to immerse them in the beautiful mysteries of science. Whether she's describing the water cycle as a "veritable merry-go-round of moisture" or taking the students on a field trip to Outer Space, she teaches by her example. She joyfully experiences the world with wonder, showing the students just how incredible the gift of life is. "Wahoo!" Ms. Frizzle cheers as she springs into action. For her, using science and exploration to learn about life and the world is not a reason to be a bored "know-it-all;" instead, it is a thrilling adventure. I see her childlike awe, and I wonder if us "responsible adults" can try to regain some of that joyful zest for life that we so often lose over the years. While paying bills, dealing with family drama, and wrestling with workplace difficulties may not feel thrilling, we can still look for small ways to recognize the beauty and miracles that God sends our way each day. 

Introducing my children to this beloved show has been a lot of fun for them, and it's been good for me, too. While having a small chunk of time to drink coffee in peace and take a breath is nice, I've also really enjoyed learning from Ms. Frizzle once again. 


  1. My daughter is a teenager and still trills, "Seat belts, everyone!" in a Ms. Frizzle voice when we get in the car. The Magic Schoolbus is awesome.

  2. My kids love this show! I keep a list of the episodes handy and play whichever episodes relate to what we are learning in science. It's a helpful tool to expand on what they are learning in school!

    1. That's so great that you guys watch this too! It definitely brings learning to life in a very fun way.