Have you ever noticed that children pay attention to the same thing their parents pay attention to? The mom who enjoys fashion magazines and style is apt to have a little girl who does too. The dad who loves working on and around cars and trucks probably has a boy who is in the garage, wanting to help. The child of gourmets shows an interest in food and cooking. In the preschool stage, children become ‘mini-me’s’ of their parents.
This is a good thing, because copying one’s parents is how children learn. They are apprentice adults. Children observe their parents and copy their actions and even begin to think like them. This will change in the teen years as they develop their own self-hood, but until then parents are their greatest influence. You can take advantage of this fact to gift them a deeper interest in learning, to develop their powers of observation, and the confidence to make educated inferences from what they see.
Humans are immersed in a soup of sensations, images, odors, and sounds. Our brains select the most important details for our survival and says “pay attention here.” In normal circumstances, one pays attention first to things that are known to be threatening and then to things that are mostly familiar. Once something is classified as safe, both children and adults might not pay much attention to it. In effect, this narrows our area of interests and keeps us from questioning our world because things are “just the way they are.” You can give your child a wider field of interest by widening your own.
For example, you may not know the kinds of birds in your area, where they nest, or what they eat. However, a quick look on the internet or a book from the library will tell you everything you need to know. The next time out with your child, identify some of the birds you see. Over time, share a bit of the information you’ve recently acquired. Teach what differentiates birds from animals and give your child the vocabulary for talking about birds—feathers, beaks, nests, flight, etc. Help them find a bird that neither of you know, then find out more about it together. Extend your child’s interest by putting up bird feeders, coloring pictures of different types of birds, and playing card games matching different types of birds, and of course, reading books about birds together.
As you can see, this method of widening a child’s interest can apply to any topic. If you are going out for a walk in the woods, look up a few different types of trees. If you are on a walk in the city, look at different types of building materials and wonder why they were chosen. Are you in the countryside? Challenge your child to think up some of the ways cows and horses are different from each other. Look at different types of residences. Once back home, build them with blocks or draw pictures, noting things like size comparisons, and the number of windows.
Life becomes ever so much more interesting and fun once you and your child get in the habit of observing, asking questions, and searching for answers.
Evelyn Satterlee, M.Ed.