The waiting room in the skin clinic was quiet; people were reading, staring out of the window, occasionally shuffling their feet and drinking water from plastic cups filled at the water fountain. Although the clinic was busy, there were plenty of empty seats and the atmosphere was peaceful and patient. Everybody was middle-aged and older except for one young mother and her son, a little boy too young to be able to read but old enough to look at pictures and recognise what they depicted.
I had my Ipad to read; there was one empty seat between me and the little boy and his mother. The centre table held a pile of magazines which soon engaged the child’s interest. He fetched one magazine after the other and plonked them on his mum’s lap; once he’d collected the whole pile he asked mum to open them and to look through them page by page. So far so good, he was perfectly quiet and didn’t really disturb anyone else, except those who might have wanted to glance at a magazine themselves.
Now comes the bit I found to be worthy of comment: the magazines had pictures, the usual stuff, people, cars, houses, etc. The little boy pointed to each picture in turn and said “What’s HE doing”, the emphasis on the ‘HE’ regardless of the subject. Again, that in itself is no great cause for concern but to me the mother’s reaction to his unchanging question was. Invariably, patiently, kindly, she answered him by telling him that 'the car was shiny, the man smartly dressed, the house big, the lorry articulated', etc. etc. Never once did she do what to me would have been the most natural response, namely to invite the child to explore the picture with her and for the two of them to work out what was happening in it.
After about the 20th ‘What’s HE doing’, I muttered under my breath ‘You tell me, mate’. He heard me and very briefly looked at me, but quickly turned back, continuing as before.
Is learning really just being told what’s in front of you or is a great part of it discovering things for yourself, with the help of someone else naturally, working them out, browsing, getting them wrong sometimes but persevering nevertheless. It’s a long time since I had small children but I can’t remember ever just stuffing them with ready made answers to their questions. Not that they would have appreciated this, they probably complained that I ‘made a fuss’ and 'talked too much’.
There is this lovely story about David Attenborough - Godfather of Natural History TV and one of Britain’s National Treasures - as a young boy finding an animal bone in the garden and taking it to his father, a GP, who pretended not to recognise it. Instead, they pored over zoology and anatomy books together. “They shared the excitement of discovery."
If one of the little people in your household shows open curiosity and a wish to explore, indulge them, and gently lead them on the path of discovery. You might even learn something new yourself.