I took three of my grandchildren to the zoo a couple of weeks ago (with my daughter Nicole) and on the way in I overheard a comment from a little boy (about 5) that got me thinking. We had to walk along a path past a hole in the ground where they are building a new car park. The little boy asked his Dad about three times "I wonder what they're doing in there Dad?" The tone was, as you'd expect from a five-year-old out for the day with Mum and Dad, all excitement and anticipation. It was Dad that he asked, three times. Not Mum, but Dad. Dad was talking to Mum and didn't hear him, or maybe he was too deep in conversation with Mum for him to notice. I was tempted to say, "they're building a car park", but I kept quiet.
This seemed to me like a missed opportunity for learning and maybe for increasing the strength of the bond between father and son. This could have been the last of 25 questions he'd asked his Dad since parking the car, and maybe the only one he hadn't answered; who knows. The context of course was that I was going into the zoo full of my own sense of anticipation of a day with my daughter and her three children (and my grandchildren), Jacob (5), Rebecca (3) and Elsie (1). I thought about the many opportunities that they'd have this day to learn; the fun we'd have together. Learning in families so often happens in the cracks of the day, in the small moments as we do things together.
A second event that occurred on the same day as the above resonated well with the zoo event and in the process reminded me of a childhood memory that also demonstrated the same point of this post. After coming home from the zoo, Jacob was looking at his cutlery while he ate (the knife, fork and spoon each have a single digit number, "1", "2" or "3" on them). On a previous visit to our house he'd surprised us by saying (out of the blue) in the middle of a meal, "The biggest number I can make with these numbers is 321". But this time (several weeks later) he piped up, "The smallest number I can make is 123". We chatted some more about numbers, "What's the biggest number starting with two that you make?" etc. This triggered a memory of my childhood that I shared with my daughter, Jacob and everyone else at the table.
"When I was about your age Jake, my Dad taught me to read using a metal plate. Well he taught me the alphabet anyway". I explained how my Dad would use an enamel plate with the letters of the alphabet around it to melt cheese (for toast) on the top hotplate of our kitchen fuel stove. As he scraped the cheese off (I can still hear him saying "This is the best part son, the crispy bit") he would check my knowledge of the alphabet. Over a number of such events he sharpened my knowledge of letters. I still remember it vividly over 50 years later.
What's common here and what's the point I'm trying to make?
Each of the teaching/learning moments is different in terms of who initiates the conversation, how it is structured, the content, where it is set and so on. But all are similar in one special way; each opportunity is unplanned and each occurs as a child and an adult (in some cases more than one adult) do everyday things together.
What's one of the most important things you can do to help your child to learn? And, what's the one of the best things you can do to strengthen your relationship with each of your children (or grandchildren)? Spend time with them! And as you do:
- Listen to them
- Answer their questions
- Look for teachable moments
- Point out things that you find interesting
- Share your memories, your values, and your beliefs
- While you bath your children
- While you're walking
- While you're eating together
- Watching TV
- Reading with them
- Throwing rocks into a creek
- Tossing a ball
- Hanging out washing
- Weeding the garden
- Doing the recycling