Thursday, March 19, 2009

Learning Through Talk

My four year old Donny loves to talk. Several times each day, I hear myself saying, "Donny, please stop talking and take some bites of your food. Wait, Donny, you may not interrupt my conversation. Donny, please finish going potty before you talk any more. Donny, it's time to sleep now; you can tell me about it in the morning." But this morning, with no pressing errands or activities to complete, I had the leisure of a long conversation (or more accurately, monologue) with my eldest son.

He started by asking me who I voted for in the recent town election. I told him that most of the voting was about things, like whether our town should have taller buildings or pay money to fix some bridges. Of course, he wanted to know everything I could remember, including the details of a zoning law amendment that proposed changing the requirements for farms from two to five acres. This naturally lead to a discussion of the approximate size of an acre, as I tried to use familiar backyards to give him an idea. He speculated about whether we could have a farm if we cut down all the trees in our yard, but we still have less than one acre, so it looks like his dream of owning horses and pigs will have to wait.

From there, the conversation turned to construction vehicles and houses and Donny's future. He told me about how he would build a trailer on wheels and park it somewhere close to Auntie Shelly's maybe in her backyard. Later in the conversation, he planned to build a two story house with an apartment upstairs for Junior Asparagus. He would need a backhoe, crane, and a dump truck, of course - and three trailers to pull them on. As I ushered him into the bathtub, he continued to speculate about his future. We talked, as we often do, about who he could marry. Lately, he seems to have fixed his affections on Avery, a toddler friend from church, perhaps simply because she meets the requirements of being a girl who is close to his age and not part of our family. Last time he mentioned marrying Avery, he promised that he would buy her lots of dolls, "because I know she really likes dolls." Today, he pledged that he would be sweet and always have candy, lots of candy. When he ascertained earlier this morning that he would always live in this house, even when he was married, I assured him that he would want to have his own house and family someday, but it would still be a long time before he would get married. He replied, "Yeah, probably not till...January. Just remind me in January."

I love hearing his plans for his future family. His wife would be a bus driver, and if they have a lot of children, she can drive them in the school bus. He mentioned the idea of giving some of his children to other people, like Auntie Shelly, but I explained that children aren't like extra puppies that people just give away. Speaking of puppies, he wants to have a dog - specifically, a black lab named Shadow. He told me a few days ago that he would wait until his wife dies to get a dog, though, because she hates the smell of them.

After bath, we practiced writing the letter L with the help of a printout from First-School Preschool Activities and Crafts. From there I thought we could move on to writing "lion," or at least tracing it, since my novice writer is still unsure how to hold a writing instrument, much less use it to properly form letters. After that, Donny wanted to write "roar" and "walk" and finally "A lion walks and roars." Far be it from him to stop short of writing an entire sentence when I set out to teach him a simple letter.

By the time I had finished washing Hayden's hands (his version of letter practice had quickly turned to tracing his own hand with a washable Crayola marker), Donny's lion paper had transformed into a voting ballot. He proceeded to detail everything he had voted for, from "yes" to taller buildings to "no" to more cars and "yes" we should have gold streets. When I inserted a quick social studies lesson on our right to vote and the fact that people in other countries do not have that freedom, he worked it right in to his story. He was voting on behalf of Junior Asparagus, you see, because Junior lives in a country where there is a king and he isn't allowed to vote.

Last night, Grandma stopped by to visit and was quite impressed with Donny describing his latest Lego structure as "symmetrical" (it was, you know), and Hayden exclaiming to Grandpa, "Is that a B on your shirt?!" (For the record, I had no idea Hayden knew the letter B; we have never purposefully practiced it.) I'm not sure what part their natural intelligence and eagerness to learn plays in their knowledge, but it makes sense to me that my children sometimes express ideas that seem advanced for their limited years. When we spend every day together, talking, reading, asking and answering questions, and observing the world around us, learning becomes part of everyday life. We get to experience the journey together, and in trying to answer their probing questions, I discover a thirst for knowledge as well. Beyond this, I have the joy of learning about the desires, dreams, and ideas of these dear ones whom God has placed in my care.

My four year old is not a genius because he knows about acres, symmetry, the voting process, and how to make a wife happy. He is simply a curious and observant boy whose mind is open and waiting to be filled with knowledge. What an amazing privilege and responsibility it is to be the one who gives him that knowledge and shapes his developing ideas of the world! Today may not have been the most eventful or productive morning; a bit of laundry, bath, snack, and letter writing seemed to take up all of the time before lunch. Yet it was a peaceful morning, and one I cherish, because it allowed me to glimpse into the heart of this little person God has given me the privilege of knowing. It was a learning experience worth all the dolls, candy, and two story trailers in the world. And someday, perhaps, I will share these precious details with Donny's wife, when he gets married a long time from now...just remind me in January.

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. - Colossians 4:6