Joy of the Month Excerpt (June)
Interest & Curiosity
Ah, to see the world through the eyes of a child, where there is wonder in all things and where boredom or routine do not exist.
I had been a student in Boston for two years. I loved the city and thought I knew it pretty well. Then a visitor came to spend the weekend with us on his way through the city. "What do you want to do?" I asked. "See Boston!" he said. I took him to my favorite places: the Wharf, Hay Market Square, the Freedom Trail. His eyes were wide the whole day. His comments were of fascination, even awe. "That really happened here?" His questions were questions of genuine interest, questions of history, of geography, of personality, of joyful curiosity. I couldn't answer most of them because I had never asked them. In those days I think I saw more reflected in his eyes than I had seen in two years through my own eyes.
I thought I loved Boston, but my friend enjoyed the tour, enjoyed the day, the people, the smells, the feelings, more than I had the first time I had seen them or at any time since. The joy that I saw in his face was the involved, absorbed, wrapped-up, forget-himself-and-his-own-problems joy of curiosity and of interest. He had, preserved within him, a joy that nearly all small children possess and nearly all adults lose.
I remember sitting once, off to the side in a busy shopping mall, looking at passing people -- watching to see who was watching. The adults were preoccupied with their jobs, their problems, themselves. Their eyes never met mine. Their eyes saw only what was necessary to navigate through the crowded corridor.
But the children saw everything. Each child looked straight at me for at least a moment, and for a moment at everything. Their eyes and ears were receptors, taking in all the data, seeing, hearing, questioning.
It is no wonder that we learn as much in our first five years as in the rest of our lives. We see more, feel more. We are born with a natural and joyful curiosity and interest. What happens to it? Where did those adults drop it? When would those children lose theirs?
One study showed that babies spend one-fifth of their waking hours in motionless, focused gazing, simply figuring things out with their eyes. Their minds are so malleable, so impressionable! Parents can perhaps change their children's minds more, for better or for worse, than they can change either their bodies or their spirits.
The Question Game.
At dinner or some other convenient time, explain that being able to ask good questions is sometimes more important than giving right answers. Tell the children that you will give them a category and see how good a question they can think of to ask. Then name a category (anything from "clouds" or "cars" to "daddy's office"). As you play this game several times, you may want to explain to the children that there are "what," "when," "where," "who" and "how" questions.
Learn from children's example; participate with and encourage them.
My wife and I observed our three year old through the back window playing alone among the flowers on a warm early-spring day. Her delight and intense interest showed so clearly that we felt it, and I murmured, "How can we keep that in her forever?" My wife replied, "By watching her watching, and watching what she watches."
Since then, we have come to know that that's the secret. Children are the teachers, the experts; we are the learners, the students. The teachers can be encouraged by the interests of the learners, and thus their interest-expertise can gain the element of pride that causes it to remain. Chances for application come daily: Instead of pulling them way from their activity (jumping in leaves) and into yours (cleaning house), how about occasionally leaving yours to join them in theirs? (Don't worry, the leaves will brush out of your hair.)
Answer and ask.
While you are in those leaves, your teacher (your child) may ask, "Did a caterpillar make this hole in this leaf?" You might consider these responses: thanking him for teaching you to have an interest in that hole; answering him by saying, "Yes, a caterpillar probably did;" and opening a chance for more teaching by asking, "And where do you suppose that caterpillar is right now?"
How precious a questions is! An alert mind that asks is the first step to answers, discoveries, solutions. Never ignore or criticize a question: This is like stepping on a flower bud just set to bloom. The moment a question is asked is like the moment a flower blooms on an early spring morning. The air is clean and crisp, the images precise and distinct. The child's mind is ready to absorb; the moment won't last. So many people -- running, hurrying, preoccupied -- walk past the flower, drive right through the spring morning without seeing or smelling it, and the moment passes, forever lost. The child asks and we defer, brush off, hurry the answer, or, even worse, say "Don't bother me now, I'm busy." Oh, the need to go the other direction -- to praise the question, to flatter him for asking it, to help a child glory in his wonderings!
Actually, to go back to the analogy, two mistakes are commonly made as the flower blooms on the new spring morning. One is to miss it, walk past it, never see it; the other is to pick it instead of appreciating it, enjoying it, helping if we can to make it grow.
With a questioning child, one of two similar mistakes usually occurs: (1) ignoring, brushing off, not noticing the beauty and potential of that moment, and (2) answering instead of reasoning together, helping, or asking questions of the child that will help him answer his own. When we take the time to discuss a question, we help the child to understand the wonderful concepts of reasoning, conceptualizing, researching -- the ideas that allow him to revel in his thoughts and rejoice in discovered answers.
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