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i wonder…

February 27, 2014

“Aren’t we supposed to create these learning moments, teachable moments? Like when he asks me how it works or grows or how come I’m doing it this way. I mean I know the science behind it so why not teach him?” she asked me.

Well, I suppose you could I countered, but what are we teaching exactly if we are so often stepping in and giving the answer. Wouldn’t it serve to let the child wonder a bit, muse or contemplate. All things equal and safe, it seems that having an experience is far richer than an explanation. Often contemplation of a situation or thing will bring a deeper comprehension which becomes the hopeful doorway to knowledge. The experience of building a teeter-totter with friends, and figuring out that you need balanced weight on either side, far outweighs any theories of gravity or fulcrum points and levers. The awe of a kindergartener as the red paint flows into the yellow creating orange is more colorful than an explanation of secondary and primary colors. Our body learns first through the “doing, seeing, touching, hearing” of life before the brain gains purchase.

“Information is not knowledge.”  (Einstein)

Picture 2

Any imparted information from us hopefully encourages a hunger for knowledge, not the satiation of the search. I’m all for moments where we can share knowledge – when those moments meet the age and the need of the child. A child at kindergarten (4, 5, 6) and below is a far different story than one at 3rd or 5th grade. Inevitably in one of my workshops, a parent will assure me of their gifted child who is quite precocious and thirsts for knowledge. That may well be true. His thinking might be, but what of his social, emotional, spiritual or physical intelligence? Has that too rushed ahead? I assure you that the mind of a gifted child is not fragile, it can withstand the delayed gratification of information, there is no expiration date on “getting smarter”. My grandmother died in her late 90’s and she still was curious. Hunger for knowledge is fed by healthy balanced meals that provide sustainable nourishment, not super-rushed power shakes.

Lately, it seems that the information is what is important and not the thinking that leads to understanding. I see such a trend towards information overload, almost a consumerism, a materialism of data consumption. Pack it in, suck it up and all will be well, more, more, more. It’s shallow water to give information to a child who’s unable to fully understand it. I liken it to hefting a child into a tree she cannot climb into or out of by herself. She’s there all right climbing the tree, but not by her own ability, and once she’s up how does she get down? By you of course. But encourage her to climb smaller trees and gradually reach higher and she’ll one day be able to scale tall oaks.

“We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom.” (E. O. Wilson)


But I wonder, and I do so a lot. I watch the world around me and question, unpack what I know or have been taught, try shifting and aligning things in new ways. You could say reality is the reality, but then what of what we were taught and how it shifts when science finds that what they announced without the possibility of change has indeed changed. This is not advocating the withholding of information, heavens that would be wrong, it is a metering of the information. Dancing with your child on your shoes so that they might one day dance on their own. I hesitated as I wrote this, concerned that it would be misinterpreted; I mean not to imply that you shouldn’t talk with your child nor give details or information for that matter, but instead consider how often you speak, choose what you do teach or speak about, evaluate it for necessary content. Is it necessary, is it kind, is it true, is it just filling quiet space?

There is a great term fire hosing to describe the overabundance of information. When a trickle will do for an explanation to a young child say kindergarten “the sun comes up because it is day” vs a fire hose, “the sun doesn’t come up dear, as the earth rotates in orbit we revolve around the sun and so the sun isn’t really coming up…”. We think they glean but really they simply contain, we’re hoping to enlighten and we’re burdening. Information is meaningless without context, without the capacity of comprehension. So I wonder if maybe we might instill a love of investigation, of wonder, of awe. Why seems to me one of the most glorious and underused questions we have. Why with silence behind it to leave open the unfolding of possibilities. As I write this it occurs to me that just as the use of open-ended toys can encourage the imagination, so does open-ended conversation.

“Ultimately all knowing, from the highest to the lowest, is the result of experience; it arises on the way of experiences.” (Rudolf Steiner)


“All right,” she said, “how do I do that, what does that look like”.

Try these:

No answer at all, just a shrug and a hmmm?.

“Hmm, I wonder?” and then say nothing while they explain it to you or ponder, or perhaps never say anything at all.

“What do you think ?” (the younger the child the less you will correct inaccurate information and allow for the imaginative possibility of what they have said- as in younger than 8). Remember that often they want to play with ideas, they’re not looking for accuracy.

“That is something to think about isn’t it?”

“Oh, because it does.” This answer scares parents but try it anyway.

“This is the way we do it.”

“This is the way our family does it” ( chooses, speaks, acts, our family rules…) You can use the same response replaced with In our home….

Go for the most simplistic and accurate answer you can.

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