Your child is an information and experience Hoover. She was born to devour data. He was created in just such a way as to be driven to gorge himself on life. And all in order to live it, and understand it, to interact with it freely and creatively, and to put that knowledge and wisdom to use in living. And if you have ever seen the science fiction movie Short Circuit, you may liken this drive to the scene where Johnny 5 is ravenously devouring all of Ally Sheedy’s books, one after the other, and watching TV until the wee hours of the night, soaking in every possible detail and nuance of human culture that he could get his sensors on.
I mention this (fairly obvious) fact not to regale you with my deep knowledge of the inner workings of the minds of children, nor to move you to some new level of parenting to which you have previously only imagined. I mention this to remind you of your child’s prime directive. This is what our kids are here for — why they are kids so long — and the single most important task of their youth. It’s not to learn to behave — it is to LEARN.
And I suppose you know what is coming next… Yep, the reminder that our main job as parents is to immerse our children in the input they crave. We start with the most important information: “You are safe, and you are loved,” — the information that makes room in their brains to absorb everything else. We then proceed to information about the vital workings of everything from banana peels and toilet paper to language and physics. What? You didn’t know you were a physics teacher? Oh yes, every time you pick up the toy your 1 year old tosses from the high chair, you are completing a lesson in gravity, and reaction, and the continuity of the existence of the toy itself. Every time you hold your toddler’s hand as she teeters across the living room floor, you are teaching her about force, and muscle exertion, and balance.
“You are your child’s first teacher” as the book title goes. And whether you step up to that role or not, you are teaching your child every moment you are with her. In fact, most, of what we teach our young ones we teach without ever even having a lesson in mind, and without ever talking about what we’re teaching. Our kids are naturally such information sponges, that if we are in proximity, they are learning from us no matter what we’re doing or saying. It isn’t something we have to turn on, or activate for them, nor do we have to get ourselves into teaching mode for it to be absorbed by our constant pupils. It is already happening all the time!
What we need is to be aware of it. We need to recognize ourselves in the role of teacher, regardless of our intelligence, or ability to design lesson plans, and regardless of our scholastic intentions for our children. Because, as I mentioned above, we are doing it all the time, without needing to pay attention to it, and without needing to say much about it. Our place as parents means that our children are watching what we are doing and doing it (along with their own explorations), so what we really need is to be and do what we want our kids to learn to be and do. And if there is something specific that we want to see in them, then we need to show them that.
They are going to learn from us whether we like it or not (remember the first time your child did something that you couldn’t figure out where he learned, until you caught yourself doing it?). So if we want them to learn something in particular, we would do well to give them that input. And input in all viable forms about everything that is happening in their world — starting small, and expanding the horizons of information as they age. The same goes for tempering things they will learn without us — if we want to augment their understanding we have to give them different, additional input. So, for example, when our 7 year old learned from a new school friend to say “Blah, blah, blah,” when she wasn’t feeling especially interested in something I was telling her, I let her know (without shaming or chastising her) that people don’t like to be made fun of in that way, and asked her how she might feel if I began doing the same thing to her, etc., etc.. I didn’t just leave her with a half understanding, I gave her more input, until her understanding was fuller, more complete.
I have said it in other posts, but I want to stress the point here that we give our kids information about everything. Now that they are fully lingual, we do a lot of just talking, but we also continue to do a lot of modeling as well. The trick, for us, is to use whatever situation we are in, and whatever interest each girl has, to cue what information we share. It is an “unschooling” method we learned while studying up on home-schooling the three of them. The basic theory is simply to use whatever moment you are in as the teachable moment. (Our girls are now so savvy to this, that they will ask us questions if we are too slow with the info.) So when we go to the grocery, we talk about food, advertising, health, money, social etiquette in the parking lot or in the check out line, agriculture, and on and on, ad infinitum.
So — bottom line — I want to encourage you to go for it. Let your child(ren) play, and explore, and dismantle, and ask questions, and get answers. Stuff those little, developing brains with solid, healthy, serious (st/age appropriate) input. They can take a surprising amount more of it than you may think, and if they miss a tiny morsel, they will be back to devour it later. Whatever you do, don’t hold back. Give them as much information as you both can stand — as they get older and need to be wiser, you’ll both be thankful that you did.
Be well, my dear educators. Go forth and provide input!