Seeing the world through the lens of childhood

by Kristin on October 30, 2009

in Love, family & community

Illustration by Jason Berg

Yesterday I spent the day in Springfield, Illinois with three busloads of third and fourth graders—well, I actually only spent the day with 10 fourth graders, which was much more manageable. We went to the New Salem historic site, a reconstruction of where Abraham Lincoln spent his early adulthood, and then the state capitol building and the state museum.

Our group was high-energy, so I had to be really “on,” (much like I described in another post about chaperoning a field trip), but I also just purely loved observing and interacting with the kids.

When I’m spending time with kids, I love seeing things in a new light, through their eyes. I love learning again some of the things I learned so long ago—both academic information and those important bits of knowledge about how the world works, and how social interactions and negotiations play out.

Perhaps what I love most is the opportunity to be transported back to my own childhood—to remember so many of the fascinations, fears, discoveries and confusions I felt. Being able to get in touch with the nine-year-old version of me is fun, and I also think it helps me understand more about my adult self.

The rewarding challenge of explaining the world, honestly & simply

As I interacted with the kids yesterday, I was also reminded how much I love thinking about how to answer their questions, and how to explain what certain words mean. When Laisha saw a sign and asked “What does ‘prohibited’ mean?” I responded “It means it’s ‘not allowed.’” Then she asked “Why don’t they just write ‘not allowed?’” I had to swallow my laugh and tell her that was a very good question—in fact, it’s one I spend much of my professional life advocating. “Sometimes big words do a better job explaining something, but a lot of the time people use them when they don’t need to, just to sound smart or official,” I explained.

As adults, we often fall into ruts, forgetting to question why things are done in a certain way rather than another, just as valid way. I love how spending time with kids can jostle you out of those ruts.

Before I started writing this post, I went to #thelovelist hashtag on Twitter to pull some recent additions for this post. A few of them, in particular, went right along with this theme:

@MoJoJules just got back from seeing my niece. she makes my heart complete and laugh. she is precious!

@jenluit I love that my daughter protests the idea of “girl” and “boy” toys.

@kt_writes Q, my 11-YO, just said “I love tea & books. I could live without computers & TVs & lemonade, but not without tea & books.”

@OSG Sent an email that I signed “Dad”.

Here’s to kids—not just for who they are, but for how they change us. If you don’t get chances to interact with kids on a regular basis, I really encourage you to find ways to connect at a church or by volunteering as a tutor or mentor at a local school or non-profit.

Now for some updates from #thelovelist over past week or so:

@MoJoJules Just helped my dad do the Halloween “boo” gift in our neighborhood. Never laughed and ran so hard in my life.

@bridgeout So grateful for the bright blue sky today and short sleeve weather after several days of cold and rain

@OSG Love when things on my #thelovelist are actionable. eg, love trees fall colors, reminds me of Delaware; Write M a letter.

@lje2me Losing myself in creativity in my craft room is so healthy for my heart & soul.

@kt_writes when writing a blog post becomes an active part of the thought & idea *process*, not just a way to record an idea/thought.

@scheidel I love that I work in an office in midtown manhattan where 30 out of 30 employees get excited about the fall lunchtime potluck.

@remtobreathe So glad I dragged myself off to church prayer last night … was awesome … and badly needed.

@mojojules I got to go into the “deep” with a new friend. Loved the honesty and rawness of the convo.

@cnewvine I’m grateful for sunny autumn days when the air is crisp and smells like leaves.

And I’m really excited about next Friday’s guest post, by my book-loving, Gen-Y friend Meredith. Here are some of her recent love list additions, just to give you a sense of who she is and what you can look forward to:

@McMer314 I love snuggling into oversized sweathshirts, burrowing underneath blankets instead of turning on heat when it gets cold.

@McMer314 Singing in my car along with the radio/ipod, at the top of my lungs, not caring if I’m in tune.

@McMer314 Sunday nights mean reconnecting w/ my family through phone calls. I like hearing their voices – makes the distance seem less.

@McMer314 Reading a beloved book again for 2nd (or 3rd, 5th or 8th) time is like catching up with an old friend – familiar and new.

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  • Robin

    Kristin~I love reading your thoughts about kids and spending time with them. As a mother and teacher, I wish more people had the desire that you have to actually think about how they are interacting with the children in their lives. To be able to look at something through a child’s eyes is a special gift and one to cherish. Kids have such an innocent and wonderous view of the world. It’s good for all of us to be reminded of that sometimes.

  • Meredith

    One of the things I value most from my nephews and niece are the way they make me look at things, especially things I already think I know about, from a different perspective. It’s so easy to assume that I know what I know, until I spend time with them and they remind me to think about things from an alternate point of view. I absolutely agree that, as you said so well, “As adults, we often fall into ruts, forgetting to question why things are done in a certain way rather than another, just as valid way.” Something similar to this ended up on my own love list.

    (P.S. Thanks for the shout-out! Now I’m nervous!)

  • Trina

    Great suggestion for adults without kids to find ways to connect with kids, win-win situation. Our elderly neighbours relish in communing with ‘youngsters’ of all ages, they say it keeps them young. Plus they enjoy being ‘current’.

    I love the prohibited vs. not allowed exchange, amazing how kids can see some things so simply, and also come out with such complex ideas.

    I love how a coffee after a field trip just helps decompress plus give time to reflect.

  • suzen

    What an insightful post! You are so right about kids posing questions to us that really make us question some things in our “adult and grown-up” world! They sure do! I taught for years – but in many ways I feel I was the one doing the learning!

  • Dave Thurston

    Man, you can just see that stuff in kids eyes can’t you. And then if given a chance to (non-judgementally) voice those ideas . . . frequent brilliance.

    A hobby of mine is photography and a simple but amazing “trick” when photographing kids is to get down to the level of their faces and take the pictures horizontally. When that is accomplished, they are no longer literally looked down upon, but are (again literally) on equal levels. Kind of the same thing, when watching their world and their interactions from their level, great empathy can be gained and great appreciation returned.

  • Nicola

    My very favorite thing about being a mother is the chance to have amazing conversations with my daughter. She is only 5 1/2, but is kind of a wise old soul who is really interested in figuring out how the world works. We’ve been having the most incredible exchanges since she was 3 1/2 and it’s been challenging and rewarding to figure out how to answer her questions thoughtfully and truthfully. I can imagine how this will get harder as she gets older, but sometimes I find it difficult now. I want to be truthful with her and prepare her well for the world which she will have to live in, but I also want to nurture her joy and excitement and love, which she has in abundance! I just can’t believe how complicated that can be sometimes!

  • Jeb

    Hi KT…
    I do love engaging in activities with kids, or those that kids would traditionally enjoy, to reconnect with that life. What I wonder, though, is if we’re doing something wrong, as a society, when reconnecting is required. Do you think there will come a day when we value wonder/imagination/curiosity sufficiently to foster them all of our days?

  • Kristin T.

    Robin, thank you! That’s a great compliment, coming from a mother and teacher. I think what’s interesting about all of this is that I never felt drawn to kids or like I knew how to be around them until after I had my own. I think the wonder of seeing things through their eyes was the key to really connecting with kids—even those who aren’t my own.

    Meredith, yes, those things we think we already know all about are the things that are most fun to re-discover from a kid’s point of view. The “why” question can get old if you have a two-year-old, but for the rest of the world, I don’t think we ask it often enough. (Don’t be nervous about your guest post—everyone will welcome your perspective!)

    Trina, your elderly neighbors seem to have a great setup worked out. You bring up another whole dimension: how important it is for young people to interact with people a couple of generations removed. Our society isn’t nearly as intentionally intergenerational as it should be. I’m really thankful both of my grandmas are still alive (in their 90s!) because it gives my girls opportunities to spend time with people who have lived through so much of what we consider history. And of course my grandmas love being around kids.

    suzen, my parents both taught throughout their careers, so I know how much work it is—and how enlightening and rewarding it can be. When I was a teenager, my mom used to often tell us stories during dinner of the different insightful and funny things her students would ask and observe. So priceless.

    Dave, the whole idea of giving kids a chance to share what they’re thinking, without worrying of being judged or laughed at, is so important. Think of how much we miss when we seem too busy, or when we don’t tend to take kids seriously. And I love how your literal point of view as a photographer becomes a perfect metaphor for our interactions with kids. Empathy—yes!

    Nicola, once again, you and I have much in common! I’d have to say, as a natural conversationalist myself, that I enjoy that aspect of parenting more than just about any other, too. You bring out the dynamic perfectly here: “…it’s been challenging and rewarding to figure out how to answer her questions thoughtfully and truthfully.” All of these conversations you’re having with her now are preparing you for the tougher ones to come. You’ll do great.

    Jeb, it’s good to see you again! I’m not surprised you’re back with a hard question, either. :) “Do you think there will come a day when we value wonder/imagination/curiosity sufficiently to foster them all of our days?” I don’t know. It seems like some adults do a pretty good job of valuing those things in their everyday lives—does that mean they’ve figured out the secret, or do they just have personalities that are wired in that particular way? Maybe it wouldn’t be possible for everyone, as a society, to *embrace* “wonder/imagination/curiosity,” but there certainly could be more societal respect and reward for those things.

  • Jeb

    Maybe you’re right KT…it’s not possible for everyone. But I think we could do better…I could do better, that much I know for sure. It’s a worthy effort.