Little kids are always on the lookout for treasures. Pretty well every small object they find is of interest to them. And they have the patience and natural curiosity to explore endlessly in the grass and dirt, plus the enviable flexibility that allows them to squat down and then effortlessly pop back up again. The world is their laboratory.
Special finds are brought home on a daily basis. It might be anything: leaves, flowers without stems, shells, snails, rocks, bugs, butterflies, or bits of old pottery or glass. It may be a discarded bird’s nest, an unusual feather, or a handful of sparkly sand. And, as encouraging as we want to be, as the assorted collections of “things” grow, it is often difficult not to sigh and say, “Take that back outside,” instead of taking advantage of the opportunity for a teaching moment.
Let’s say, for example, that your 3-year old son brings you a piece of green glass he’s found in the garden.
Alternative 1 – no teaching moment:
Daddy: Gus, you know we said no more stuff in the house. I’m not sure why there was a piece of glass in the garden, but please put it in garbage.
Angus shrugs, takes one more look at his piece of glass, puts it in his pocket, and goes back outside to continue exploring.
Alternative 2 – teaching moment:
Daddy: Gus, you know what, I think maybe you’ve found a part of an old glass bottle; it probably had cooking oil or some medicine in it. Remember, we’ve seen things like that in the museum.
Angus: You mean it was old here once? What does that mean? What was it like?
Daddy: Well, let’s stop and think about it. Our house wasn’t here. None of these houses were here. The roads weren’t here; there were only a few dirt roads. All this land on these streets was probably a big farm, with cows and chickens and maybe some pigs. The people who lived here would have grown all their own vegetables, not just a few like we do. There was no SuperStore to go to, but when the people who lived here needed supplies they would take their wagon pulled by their horse and go to a small old-fashioned store.
Angus: Why couldn’t the Mommy or Daddy pull the wagon? Why couldn’t they use their car or their bikes like we do? How did they get to day care?
Daddy: Sorry, Gus, I should explain better. The wagon would be a big, horse-drawn wagon, not a kid’s wagon like your blue one. And they had that instead of a car. There weren’t any cars in the old days. Another thing to know about the old days is that, not only did they not have cars, they didn’t have any electricity. When it got dark they needed to light a candle or a lantern – or just go to bed. Kind of like when we’re camping. If they needed hot water they’d have to make it hot on their stove, and their stove got hot from burning wood that they cut themselves. Instead of going to day care, you’d be helping on the farm. And, of course, there was no TV, no DVDs, no computers, no radio, no iPod, nothing like that.
Angus: Then how did they watch cartoons?
Daddy: They didn’t have cartoons then. Kids played some games, like tag, but they also had chores.
Angus: What are chores?
Daddy: Chores are jobs you would do to help your mother or father. Maybe a boy your age would have helped by collecting eggs.
Angus, after a long pause: Daddy, it would be fun to be in the old days and have cows and chickens. I love cows. And it would be really fun to collect eggs. But we could still have cartoons on Mommy’s iPad, because it doesn’t need electricity.
And, pleased with his analysis, Gus went back outside to look for more treasures, leaving a smiling Daddy holding a small piece of green glass and shaking his head.
I’m sorry to admit that when it was my turn to provide teaching moments, I’m pretty sure I took the Alternative 1 approach as often as I took the Alternative 2 approach. That was my loss. We can learn a lot by taking the time to see things from the perspective of kids.