New Mama Musings

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Always With the Questions

Henry has an insatiable thirst for knowledge, as I suppose nearly all young children do. He's moved past the "Why?" stage for the most part, thank God. At times I felt like I was being "why"-ed to death:

Why do we have to take the books back to the library?

Because we only get to borrow them for a little while and then we have to return them.


So other kids get a chance to check them out.


Because the library is for everyone who lives around here and not just us.

Why?'re killin' me here, kid.

I thought that was the most challenging stage, that when he moved on to actual questions of substance I'd be home free. Definitive questions call for definitive answers, right?

So now Henry asks things like:

Why don't people call the belly button "The Tube to Nowhere"?

What happens when we die?

Can a man marry another man?

How does the baby get in the mommy's tummy?

What is Down syndrome?

Where does the sky start?

The most frustrating part is that he rarely accepts "I don't know" as an answer. He seems to think I know, or should know, everything. And when I try to explain that no one can know everything he falls back on that old standby, "Why?"

(At other times, though, he says to me, "How did you know that?" like he can't comprehend someone having such a vast scope of knowledge.)

What's interesting to me, beyond the intelligence of Henry's questions, is how he immediately applies the knowledge he acquires. For instance, he recently asked what the word "firm" meant and when I explained it, he said, "My trains are firm." (Okay, that particular definition may need some tweaking.)

He also play-acts new concepts, as when he learned about the way the American Indians were pushed out by white settlers and the role rail transportation played in this. Now he tells me, "Mommy, you're an American Indian hunting buffalo and I'm building a track." And I'm supposed to say, "I'm sad that you're bringing trains through the land I live and hunt on."

Of course he doesn't quite get it; he says that he'll move me to another area and I can hunt there (I'm not about to explain that level of cruelty to him yet). But I can practically see the gears turning in his little brain as new concepts are learned and assimilated.

Watching this progression in Henry is making me even more confident in my desire to unschool him. For those unfamiliar with this term, it means letting children decide their own education. Kids learn about whatever interests them.

I'm simply astounded by what Henry knows already at the age of three. A lot of it is fed by his love of trains, as evidenced by the previous anecdote. He can tell you how steam engines work (coal fuels the fire that heats the water in the boiler that makes steam that drives the pistons that push the rods that turn the wheels), what a lighthouse is for, what the different kinds of bridges are, what kinds of engines are in use today, how the first transcontinental tracks were laid in America and on and on.

I'm learning right along with him and facilitating his education by helping him find library books, following train tracks on Google maps and looking up information online when necessary (because no one can know everything). I'm also hoping to take him to a train museum and maybe on a real train ride this summer.

It's exciting to be around someone who is excited to learn, who doesn't see education as something you get at school (nine months out of the year, on weekdays, between the hours of eight-thirty and three). Education is just part of life.

Isn't that the way it should be?


  • Nice post. My experience with my kids is that formal education and learning are not mutually exclusive. Kids can go to school and still have a thirst for knowledge that extends well beyond the classroom.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:06 PM  

  • Love this! My daughter is only 8 months old and she's a non stop babbler. I just know the "Why?" stage is going to be fun one! Why??? Because! Great post..and you've gained a new follower!

    By Blogger Melissa, at 9:03 AM  

  • Some of those "why" questions you listed above are hard to answer!! --R. Fungus.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:35 AM  

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