This post is undeniably a gloating one. It’s that annoying parenting one where I talk about how wonderful and great my kids are. I have a larger theme, but since my examples are all about my own children, it might get lost. More often than not I try to balance my words and opinions, but you know what?
I’m just not going to worry about it this time.
It’s probably because both my husband and I are in education that we emphasize a lot of open thinking with our children. They ask us “why” and we turn it back on them and ask, “what do you think?” They ask us “how?” and we say, “let’s look it up.” To use some educational jargon, we support our children’s Essential Questions and their quest to answer them.
During the summer, we encourage our kids to come up with self-developed projects. If they complete a project – even if it doesn’t “succeed” – the reward is a trip to our seasonal amusement park, Valleyfair. Interestingly, by their own self-imposed standards, they have yet to earn this trip. (Whether or not we should take them anyway is a different conversation. For now, “let’s” cut us some slack since the entrance fee is freakin’ expensive.)
To give you an idea of how each of my two oldest children think, I’d like to share two individual projects they produced over the summer.
Child #1, age 12, is a world-builder. One of his project ideas was to write a book. I can easily tell you that he wasn’t actually fooling me or my husband that this project would come to fruition. That isn’t the point. What he did accomplish was the world for his characters. He spent time online looking up species of squirrels that live in our area. He tried to determine if we lived in a deciduous forest or a coniferous one. He created this map that gives names and personality to everything from his squirrel characters’ point-of-view.
The process of creating this world is what gave him joy. This is what he does for his friends and brothers, too, when they are outside and in their imaginations. He determines their realm, creates the parameters, and presides over the rules.
Child #2, age 10 is an inventor and engineer. I’m pretty sure he misses most of what is going on in school all day because an idea has taken root in his head and he is spending every spare moment growing it enough to come home and try it out right away. In June, he determined that he wanted to make an elevator that could raise him up. This video shows his end result.
He planned, cut, drilled, screwed, and nailed everything on his own. He made mistakes. Things didn’t always work like he thought they might. He tried again.
Would they have created these items if we told them they had to? For Child #1, absolutely not. Child #2? Maybe. Would we have come up with these ideas for them? I don’t think so.
Essential Question for Child #1: What would a world be like from a squirrel’s point of view?
Essential Question for Child #2: How can I raise myself off the ground with little work?
Putting the two together, they came up with the idea of creating a working miniature version of a stoplight to give their about-to-turn 6 little brother’s birthday. Child #1 had the grand vision and sophistication of ideas. Child #2 had the practical skills to pull it all together. This one ended up requiring a small amount of help from their dad, but this was more for time and resources rather than ability. Look what the result was:
The key to our children answering – or attempting to answer – their essential questions is not the elaborate result, but the encouragement when they have them and allowing them to act upon the ones that are feasible. Remember when we were 5 and had all of those “what if” questions? What if our house had wings? What if the sky was green and the grass was blue? What if we could walk on the ceiling?
What if we let them find out?