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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Curiosity and Children

As a result of a conversation with a good friend and an online interaction with a somewhat short-sighted person, I am connecting the dots in a couple of these posts.  This post will be about the reasons all of us need to learn to ask "why" as well as the way to help your children learn to grow into maturity emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

First, a little more on the importance of the word "why."  My last post touched on some of the things I have learned and on the spiritual gains from asking this question.  It is important to understand that literally everything has a spiritual ramification.  You may be an atheist, but everything around you, everything you do, everything you think, and everything you feel still affects your spirit - who you are internally.  Asking "why" of everything you think and everything you believe may be the single-most important exercise you can do.

Ask why of every habit, every thought, every feeling, and most especially of every fear.  If we will do this two things can happen.  One, we learn to live life on purpose.  Two, we learn to accept that there are other avenues, other views, other beliefs that surround topics that we may not yet be aware of.  It will help you understand so much of who you are, and will help you discover your true self more quickly than anything short of direct revelation from God.

I understand the reasons for things that go on inside of me because I ask "why?".  When I felt like hitting my head, instead of just accepting it, I asked questions of it.  When I felt like I was going crazy in my bedroom, I asked questions of it instead of settling for a fate of fitful nights.  If I had never asked "why", this blog would not exist - I would have no answers or reasons for anything that I do.

We are, in the words of my friend, "conditioned to be afraid of questions."  As we talked there was a clear difference once again between what I saw and what he saw.  Yet another reason that communication between two opposing viewpoints is important.  His stance: fear of asking and searching for truth stems all the way back to Cain, the son of Adam and Eve.  My stance: the fear of questioning began around the time of the dark ages.

From my perspective, I saw many people throughout history who did ask questions....the Bible is full of them as is Chinese history, Indian history, and the histories of many ancient civilizations.  It is a tradition of Judaism to ask and seek and dig deeper and deeper into everything. 

I was only thinking, however of the many examples of those who did ask questions.  My black and white brain could only see those who did ask questions, while he had a more rounded picture of those who did not among those who did.  After about 2 minutes of discussion I realized how closed my view was and the perspective it was lacking.

As we talked, I realized that once again a view that was completely clear to me was being missed.  In the middle of the conversation he said, "You have to blog about this."

So here, in a nutshell, is what became clear to me that seems to be being missed.

No matter where the culture of fear started, it is still perpetuated in a few simple ways that could be corrected in our homes.  Spiritually, we have to feel a sacred responsibility to seek truth above anything else.  We must be willing to put aside our personal beliefs and look at those beliefs objectively.  Some of them may stand the test and others may not.

There are some beliefs I was taught as a child that were more family tradition or cultural tradition rather than doctrine.  When I asked myself why I did certain things, the false quickly began to stand out like a 200 square foot, lit-up neon sign in the middle of the barren plains of Texas at midnight.  When you see things that clearly, you are really only left with two options: you can act on them, or you can quit living life and close back down to auto pilot.  As I referenced in one of my earliest posts, it is very similar to the movie "The Matrix."  Either we accept the truth once we have seen it, or we betray ourselves and those around us because of the fear of such a view.

Intellectually, if we do not ask questions then we are left with one oar in a rowboat that is spot welded into it's mooring.  Information without questions and application just becomes noise clouding our minds and our vision.

Emotionally, to decide that there is no room for asking myself why I feel the way I feel, would be like resigning myself to being subject to all things around me.  Anything and everything can affect me.  What another person feels becomes my junk as well.  But questions paint a picture of truth with the words that come out.  At the base of those questions we find the lie, expertly hidden underneath layer after layer of emotions that masquerade as fact.

I mentioned above that things can be done in our homes to change this belief system, in one generation.  It takes parents nurturing their children, the mother being in the home and working with her children as she accomplishes her daily tasks.  I think the best way to explain what I mean is in an example.  Please forgive the tedium in the example below.  The detail is for a purpose, I promise.

Yesterday I was in the kitchen, preparing dinner for the family I work with.  Usually the older daughter helps me, as she and her mother both want her to learn how to cook.  With Elena's older sister gone swimming, Elena was wandering around the house looking for something to do.  She walked up to the vegetables that were sitting on the stove and began trying to poke her finger through the plastic wrap.  I asked her if she wanted to help me get dinner ready and she smiled up at me.

Her mother, in the next room seemed nervous at this.  She came into the kitchen, but didn't say anything.  I let Elena know that if she put her stool in a particular place it would make it easier for her to help.  Then I handed her the vegetables and asked her if she would open them and put them onto the pan I was going to use to roast them.

She began digging her fingers into the plastic and eventually ripped a hole into the plastic and then tried to pull out some of the vegetables.  They were on a kabob stick, so she couldn't just pull anything out of the package.  She was frustrated for a moment, so I showed her the stick and helped her see that she would have to get the plastic open far enough to pull it out.

Elena continued to work as I was cutting up sweet potatoes.  Finally she was able to pull some of the vegetables out.  She picked up one of the kabobs and didn't realize how heavy it would be.  It dropped, but was caught between her chest and the counter.  I grabbed it and set it back up on the packaging.  She then continued to put each vegetable, one by one onto the pan.  A mushroom caught her interest.  She looked at me and then looked at it with curiosity.  I said, "Go ahead."  She put it to her mouth and took a bite.

After discovering she liked the mushroom she picked up a piece of sweet potato and ate it.  Then a green bell pepper, then a red bell pepper, then she picked up a piece of a raw onion.  After about three bites into the onion she started to spit it back out.  Her fingers came up to her mouth to dig the onion out.  Then her fingers went to her eyes as she tried to rub the stinging from the onion out of her eyes.

Naturally Elena's eyes began to water more, and she looked up at me, her eyes excited and a great big smile on her face.  She laughed as I told her my memory of my first experience of doing almost exactly as she had done.  I told Elena about being a little girl, probably very close to her age and helping my mom in the kitchen.

Next she became very curious about the knife.  Instead of "no," I began to show her what the knife was used for.  I handed her a potato and picked one up in my own hands.  I tried to break it into pieces and indicated to her to try to do the same.  I explained that we needed the potato to be in smaller pieces so we could roast it in the oven with the rest of the vegetables.  I asked Elena, "How do you think we could get the potatoes into small pieces like I have on this pan?" while I pointed at the smaller pieces I had already cut.  She looked at the potato and tried to dig her fingers into it.  Then she tried to bite it.

I explained to her that she couldn't put it in her mouth because we all needed to be able to eat it and that wasn't very sanitary.  We talked about how she doesn't mind food that someone else has slobbered on, but generally most people don't really like that.

Elena then looked at me with a look of, "well, then how did you get those little pieces on the pan?"  I picked back up the knife and stepped over to the cutting board.  I angled my body so she could see my hands clearly from her stool on the other side of the stove.  I cut the potato in half.  She looked a little puzzled and blinked several times.  I showed her that the knife had a very "dangerous edge" that we had to be careful not to touch.  I picked up the potato and showed her that it couldn't go back together once I cut it, and told her to be careful around knives because you can't put something back together once it has been cut.

I continued to slice the potatoes into smaller pieces.  She watched in awe and began to understand.  Soon enough her curiosity concerning the knife was satiated.  Elena turned her attention back to the vegetables in the packaging while I finished preparing them to roast with olive oil and sea salt.  Then I remembered I had forgotten to dice up some garlic.

Elena was curious about the new food I was working with.  I diced a few pieces and then she looked at me, wanting to try what I had just cut.  I picked up a tiny piece and told her it might be really spicy to her.  I took a larger piece of the clove and put it in my own mouth.  It had a very quick bite, followed by strong flavor.  Elena's smile slowly spread over her face and her eyes got brighter and brighter.  She made the sign for more.  I gave her another piece, with the same reaction from her.  Then I told her that bigger pieces would burn more in the beginning and would have a stronger flavor after.  I asked her if she wanted to try a bigger piece and she made her sign for "no".

I turned the oven on, explaining about heat and how the oven comes on and uses electricity to create heat.  I told Elena that when I open the oven door heat is going to come up out and could burn her, so it's important to stay back.  I also told her that everything inside of the oven is hot and she has to be careful not to touch it or it will burn her hands.  Her look of confusion reminded me that she needed what the oven was defined for her, which I promptly did.

I knew Elena had never been shown around the kitchen before.  I learned this a few weeks ago by asking her to carry her drink to the fridge.  She walked right past it, a little confused as to where exactly she was supposed to put her cup.  I pointed to the fridge and told her "This is the refrigerator, usually we call it a fridge."  She walked over to it but couldn't figure how to open the door with both hands in use to hold her cup.

I suggested she could put her cup on the floor and then open the fridge and then pick her juice up.  She didn't want to.  I asked if she would like my help.  She made a sign that meant she did.  I opened the fridge and showed her where her cup belonged.  Elena was only too happy to put the cup away.  From this experience I figured she probably didn't know what much, if anything, in the house was called.

Anyhow, as I went to open the oven, she took three steps backward.  She understood and she knew.  Our experience continued with cooking chicken and a couple more encounters with the knife and her curiosity about the pan, the stove, the burner, the knobs on the stove, etc.  But I will stop with the explanation here.

From our kitchen experience that lasted about 20 minutes, Elena gained a great deal of knowledge, mental stimulation, and physical and occupational therapy.  She used both of her hands repeatedly, as well as gripping the pieces of food with forefinger and thumb only.  Elena was able to do that with both right and left hands.

There were repeated steps up and down her stool with things in her hands which prevented her from balancing using the counter or anything else around to steady herself.  She practiced using both hands as we worked to arrange the food on the tray - each different vegetable acting as tactile therapy and stimulating her olfactory senses.

Then of course there was the very important taste testing.  Mentally Elena's ability to understand the world around her is somewhere around 10-14 months, depending on which ability we are speaking of.  A neuro-typical child of that age would be doing just what Elena does: putting everything in her mouth, wanting to understand it and smell it and feel it.

There were the social understandings that were gained, the conversation that took place between us, the added words to her vocabulary....the list goes on and on.

Much more could be said about that very short time together.  Enough has been said, however, to express my point.  What would have happened to that fabulous teaching opportunity if I had said, "No Elena, don't touch.  I'm trying to make dinner.  Go play in the other room."?  Her natural, healthy curiosity would have been stifled and she would have learned, subconsciously, that curiosity is a bad thing.

Another time she was curious about my iPhone.  I turned it toward Elena so she could see and I pressed several buttons, doing different functions.  As I pressed the buttons I talked with her about the simple basics of electric currents and loops.  We talked a little about radio waves and how light travels and got into the basics of physics a little bit.  She was mesmerized by the phone.

I told her that I touch the screen gently because it just needs a little touch to make it do what I want it to do.   Then Elena climbed onto my lap.  I held my phone while she pushed buttons.  I sat there with her until her curiosity was, once again, satisfied.  Shortly Elena climbed off my lap and went to discover something else.

Once again, what kind of a learning opportunity would have been lost if I had stifled that curiosity by telling her not to touch, it's expensive and she isn't allowed to touch......

We create the fear of questioning, the fear of curiosity in our children long before they are able to process anything truthfully.  They learn that when they are curious about something and try to understand it they will be yelled at, run to and pulled away from, or even punished.  No wonder we are all so mortally afraid of questioning the things which those around us seem to know!

We need to encourage curiosity.  If it is something they are curious about, we should let them explore...not on their own.  But by their side, showing them what it does, why it does, how it does.  Let them handle things, taste things, smell things.  Children need to learn and if we stifle that process then we are preventing growth in their youth and maturity in adulthood.  If something is expensive or dangerous explain it to them, show it to them, let them see it handled and used properly.  Don't just tell them "no, no, no, NO, NO, NO!"  The panic you feel because the thing they are curious about is dangerous is mistaken for panic toward their curiosity.  They learn to be afraid of curiosity because of your reaction.

So much of how we handle and process the world around us depends upon how we learn to process information in our very young years.  Is it any wonder we live in a world that is generally closed-minded, short-sighted, and fearful?  We can change our world just by changing the way we raise our children and interact with the children around us.  

I'll end here with a comment that was made by my friend near the end of our conversation.  He is, by the way, a father of two children - one is on the spectrum. 

"We claim it is because of our experience that we stop our children.  When in reality it is our fear that is stopping them, not our experience."

1 comment:

  1. Good reminder that we should nurture curiosity! Thx

    ReplyDelete