(1) Play for them Sergei Prokofiev’s ‘Peter and the Wolf’. Children love stories, they love music and they love animals and sometime during the twenty-eight minutes this piece consumes, a magical thing happens. The clarinet no longer represents the cat but becomes the cat, the oboe is the duck and those glaring, sinister French Horns are as terrifying as meeting up with a real wolf.
Of the senses, hearing is the least reliant on how you are physically situated**. If you lift your hand from the table, you don’t feel it anymore. If you turn your head away from the television you are no longer seeing it and if there is nothing in your mouth, that is exactly what you taste. Enjoying this event however demands nothing but your attention. Your ears you can’t turn off.
Limited only by the need for a free half hour, Sarah and I often find ourselves staring deep into eachother’s eyes as the suspense builds. She clings to me with her arms when the wolf is about to snap and we march triumphantly around the room at the end as Peter proudly presents his accomplishment. As enriching as other events can be, you just don’t have this same freedom when you’re reading a book or playing a board game.
My infinite gratitude goes to Mr. Prokofiev for affording me this pleasure. Were the themes not so brilliantly constructed, they would not suffice in capturing a five year old’s attention and I would not know the added delight of catching my daughter humming them to herself while it is not even playing. The experience ranks among the deepest connections I could ever hope to have with my child which is why I write of it; in hopes that it happens again somewhere.
**The sense of smell of course has rather broad physical boundaries, however, I would argue that its affect dissipates much more rapidly than that of hearing.
(2) Watch with them BBC’s Planet Earth documentary. It is one of the most visually stunning programs I have ever seen and the content will both captivate your child’s attention and give you loads to discuss with them as well. I let Sarah watch it tonight and had her explain to me what the narrator was saying while I made chicken soup. I was amazed at how many details she was picking up on. “Whoaaahhh” she said at one point, “that bug is 20 centimeters long” which is hilarious to me because she has almost no concept of units…making it a perfect opportunity to stop chopping and show her something that is approximately twenty centimeters long.
The segment about caves came on and they showed how stalagmites and stalagtites are formed from limestone. Then they showed a cave that had become submerged sometime after these alien like features had formed and Sarah said with excitement, “Dad, look at this world.” Fireworks went off in my head and I turned around to look at an underwater landscape as foreign to me as it was to her. “But Sarah,” I said, “This is our world.” Neither of us could really wrap our heads around this fact and again we found ourselves, happily, on the very same level.
We spend a lot of time as parents, teaching our kids that this is this and that is that and, inadvertently, I think we convey the assumption that we ‘know’ more than them. At the tender age of 4, Sarah once asked me “Why are there so many rules and why are they always made by the grown-ups?”. This well posed question stopped me in my tracks and I thought about it…for days and days and days.
As a student of Physics, I have developed a deep appreciation for all the minds that have brought us into the current era. Einstein however, above all other scientists I know of, harnesses the most childlike wonder about the universe and contains it with a most mature humility. Our children have very little context in which to judge the things they experience and in this respect, are afforded a relatively limitless potential to understand them, hence we refer to them as sponges.
I truly enjoy embracing these realizations and relish the opportunity to tell my daughter that ‘I don’t know’. I love for her to see that the grown-ups wonder too and to be by her side as we ‘find out’ together. As enriching a parent as I consider myself though, it is a fruitless endeavor unless you have a good catalyst to draw upon. On Earth Day (April 22nd), Disney is releasing its ‘Earth’ movie which features much of the photage from the BBC program. I can’t wait to take my child though I confess, I’ll probably go alone if I have to.
I am not a very good writer and so I often fail to capture the point. I love my daughter and to share in her spark. I love kids in general and to see their spark ignite. The days go by and their clothes stop fitting and, as the parents of teenagers tell me, the next day they are driving. While I am still in its presence however, I can’t help but celebrate childhood and some of those events which illuminate its nature.