As Sundays are often a time to contemplate, I’ve decided to re-share one of my earlier posts on children and their questioning. It’s a post that seems to send a lot of traffic my way due to ‘unspecified search terms‘ – damn those elusive referrers! I’d love to know exactly what people are ‘Googling’ to bring them to it! Anywho, many of you won’t have seen it and I’m hoping those who have don’t mind the slightly edited version. Enjoy! 🙂
I’ve taught from ‘quarter adults’ to ‘three quarter adults’, but my main experience comes from ‘half adults’ – in other words 8 year olds. But regardless of age, any creator or educator of mini humans knows they can be endless questions masters – Whhhhhyyyy? must be the most over used word in a child’s early vocabulary after NO!
Questions are fascinating – they can open new worlds, clarify, reassure….or just downright annoy! Unfortunately, the bulk of questions in a parent or teacher’s day probably falls into a banal sub-category of the latter.
Where’s my pencil? When’s it lunchtime? Can I go to the toilet? Can I go to the toilet now? Is it home time yet? The adults are probably just as bad – Where’s your book bag / PE kit / lunch money? Where’s your date and title? Have you washed your hands / brushed your teeth? How many times have I said…?
However, sometimes kids ask amazing, meaty questions that really make you think. I love these ones, giving a sneaky look into the inner workings of their brain and reminding you that the world can look very different from down there. (Okay, for me, ‘down there’ isn’t that far from my perspective, seeing as most of them are only an inch off my height, but you get my drift!) Here’s one of those times, when I attempted to answer their musings!
The lesson was religious education (always a good topic for questioning!), specifically creation stories, with the aim to compare the Christian version with its Hindu counterpart. It was the end of the week in a very hot classroom and they were borderline cranky – I was borderline cranky – so I knew it would be a struggle to engage them.
So after I cleared up such misconceptions as ‘Jesus made cows first then sheep, then had a rest‘, reminding them to be respectful of other people’s views (‘Why would you grow stuff in your belly button?’ I heard one ask their partner), I was about to set them off on their written task when…
“Hang on Miss. If there was nothing there in the beginning, then how did the ocean and Lord Vishnu get there? Like, with Christians, if God made the earth, who made God?”
Oh joy, just what I needed. We only had a short lesson to fit things in, plus this was far too deep for a humid Friday morning! However, I’m a firm believer in tackling any question a child throws your way and, as long as it’s appropriate, will answer as honestly as I can – including telling them I really don’t know. They already know I’m fallible: I make a point of showing them, (often unintentionally every maths lesson!) in the hope they have no qualms about making mistakes or not having a solution themselves.
“Erm, well… this is something people aren’t really sure of. I don’t know the answer but I know that…”
“Google it Miss, that always works,” shouted a helpful scallywag near the front.
“Google, or other search engines (I try to be balanced!) give a lot of answers, but there’s no proof about these stories, they are just beliefs of different faiths. Scientists have found evidence to say the universe was created from a big bang, but many ask what caused the Big Bang? Who made it happen? Was it a god? People always have and always will ask these questions, but don’t always get definite answers.”
Sixty eyes stared back. I could see they weren’t happy. Even when I’ve told them I wasn’t sure of an answer, they knew I’d always try to find out – but how could I? I don’t follow a faith and although I do have my own ideas about the universe, we can’t impose our views as gospel on impressionable minds. Besides, who wants to know that I think all inanimate objects have feelings, based on some skewed idea that if plastic comes from fossil fuels, then a dinosaur’s sensitivities may have filtered through to my water bottle?! I tried to refocus on the task.
“Sky. He fell out sky.” I looked toward the voice – the owner had an I’ve got this nailed look on her face. I couldn’t resist playing devil’s advocate…
“Who did, God? If that’s the case, who made the sky he fell out of? How did he fall? Was he pushed by someone else, or did he just slip?”
“Oh…yeah, hmmm…I didn’t think about the sky having to be made.” Dammit, I could hear her saying to herself, that was definitely going to get me bonus points…
I knew I couldn’t just leave them hanging and whilst we didn’t have time to address these musings there and then, we had a generally unheard of, small amount of free time at the end of the day. So, we all sat down for a chat! I explained that there were probably loads of questions that they were dying to know the answer to and as long as they were sensible, they could ask them now and we’d try to figure it out.
I could see some of the boys begin to snigger and their eyes widen, so I uttered a hasty disclaimer…
“Remember, it has to be appropriate, using words we think are acceptable in school and if I don’t feel I should give you the answer, I’ll suggest you talk to your parents. Okay?”
The last word was said pointedly, whilst eyeballing the main culprit for bringing up all things unsavoury!
After a couple of minutes thinking time, we began passing our totem around the circle. First up was…
“Chicken or the egg Miss? I’ve heard people say this before when they talk about questions that don’t have answers. But I don’t really get it.”
This was a good starter, coming from one of the more knowledgeable boys in the class. And I could see he was fussy to have come up with such a much-debated riddle. We talked about what it meant, some of them mock vomiting when they realised what eggs actually were, but concluded that it was impossible to have an answer we all agreed on.
Next up was one of my favourites: “You know when you dream and you’re falling, well how does your body know to give you a falling feeling when you’re laying still?”
I have views on this, having an interest in all things metaphysical, but if I started talking about astral bodies and projection, they wouldn’t have a Scooby! I told them that I wasn’t sure if there was a scientific reason why it happened: They were satisfied with this mainly because the focus had now shifted to talking about dreams in general and who had fallen off which piece of Minecraft or who had scored a goal against Ronaldo! We moved on…
Several passed at this point, either out of shyness or not having any burning desire to know anything. But eventually, we came to a lad who looked eager.
“Trollies Miss, I don’t get ’em. Like, how are they done?”
“Sorry, trollies? You mean, as in supermarket trollies?”
Really? This was the question that had festered away in his brain, keeping him up at night? His eyes were wide, like he was expecting me to tell him they were some sentient being that travelled around on their wonky wheels, looking for boxes of cereal…
“Oh…well, they’re made from metal usually. So a pattern will be followed in a factory and some wheels attached and there you go! You have a trolley to wheel around and fill up with shopping to make carrying things easier.”
“Ok, thanks.” He smiled and passed the totem. If only all teaching was that simple!
We then had some offerings such as Why is it called a nightmare? (I couldn’t answer this at the time but have since found out the mare part is from old English, meaning demon or goblin), and If a motorbike goes into your car on purpose, why do they get the money? Ah, life lesson…justice isn’t always fair!
We then came round to a girl who does know a lot about the universe for her age. She is naturally inquisitive and bright, finding enjoyment in problem solving.
“So, if you dug right down through the earth, through all the bedrock and lava and got right to the middle, what would you find?”
“A Terry’s chocolate orange!” I grinned back at her to be met with a raised eyebrow and a look worthy of a teenager.
“Puuurlease…I know that’s not true Miss. C’mon!” Chastised by an eight year old, I gave her the correct, geological response and we chatted about other things at the core of our globe, using a Scotch egg as an analogy! This then spurred her friend to ask about things above Earth.
“If space is a space and that means a gap, then what is space a gap in?”
Wow, that was pretty deep! I decided I would enlighten them on our place within said space. Drawing a rectangle on the board, placing a very small dot in the bottom corner, I asked the class what the dot represented, if the rectangle was space. A spattering of responses echoed around the circle – Earth, the sun, the moon, your anus (yes, it was that child again!) I informed them they were all wrong.
“That dot in fact stands for our galaxy, the Milky Way, which is home to millions of stars and the solar system containing the planets we know and our sun. But outside of OUR galaxy, there are an unknown number of other galaxies, which may be similar to ours or not.” I randomly dotted the pen around the rectangle.
Many necks became outstretched at this point, heads tilted to one side in a, “Whaaaaat?” kind of way. The girl whose question it had been just stared blankly, then slowly a light bulb began to flicker and with it, a rapid increase in breathing.
“But…But…But if that’s just our galaxy and there’s all that space left over, and all the planets are crammed in there, then that means…that means…there could be ANOTHER US!!”
I left her contemplating her new found knowledge and moved to the last child. He began with a “What…” then stopped, saying it didn’t matter. At this point, his friend threw his hands up and shouted, “Oh my, I can’t belieeeeeeeve you didn’t ask it!”
This must be good, to warrant such an outburst. I encouraged him to be brave and spit it out.
“What..what does a blue TIT look like?” Smiling, I took a deep breath. Oh, I know your game boys…you will not be the first nor the last!
Even without the emphasis on the three-letter word, I knew he’d been put up to it. Yet, I bypassed the bait with a calm description of a woodland bird. His friend piped up again.
“You sure it looks like that Miss? It couldn’t look like ANYTHING else?”
There’s always one…or three! But they are still kids after all and along with questions, pushing boundaries is part of the ‘making sense’ routine. They’ve still not given me a definitive answer to my go-to question: Who would win in a fight, a bear or a lion? so I’ll leave you with both that and this one to ponder, (posed to me by probably our most academically talented child and subsequently debated at length, with incredibly good justification for his views):
Would you rather never BE hungry again or never FEEL hungry again?
Answers on a postcard please (or the comment section!) but just to be clear, there’s no cuddly toy giveaway for the best answer 😉 x
Image credits: Pinterest, wikipedia, giphy.com, telegraph.co.uk. (And yes, I love Lee Newton!)