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Sunday, July 3, 2022

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Why Oh Why

As summer begins to slip away and the busy fall looms, I challenge all parents to spend the remaining weeks of summer embracing the beautiful, yet frustrating, “Why?”  “Why does a tree grow standing up?”  “Why does an airplane stay in the sky?”  “Why is red red?”  A child’s innate curiosity and wonder of how and why things work/are/exist is a quality that we must foster and challenge ourselves to embrace not squelch.

Children are born with a desire and ability to question.  Their natural tendency, when faced with something unknown, is to try to figure it out.  Ever sit back and watch an 18 month old take blocks in and out of a container?  They will repeat the same activity over and over again as their little brains are trying to make sense of what is happening. Physics is at work!  Do they understand or even know the word physics?  Of course not, but they are actively pursuing the study of physics.

As a child of a physicist and a librarian, the quest for knowledge and understanding was encouraged and even demanded in our household.  The best dinner table conversation centered on how to figure things out.  As parents and teachers, we should all play this role to guide and encourage our children and students to figure things out!  Sadly, somewhere along the journey, many parents and teachers grow tired of answering that wonderful yet nagging question why?

How can adults help foster a child’s wonder?

Join the party!   Take a moment and look at the world around you.  Ever wonder why the sky is blue?  Ever really want to know how the Florida clouds are formed to create the incredibly beautiful painting we see in the sky each day?  Don’t just look past these wonders. Take a moment and feel that childlike wonder again. I promise it will get your mind energized to learn something new.  We are surrounded by cause for inquiry.  Sadly, we often look right past it!

Invite your child into your mind.  As you spend time fostering your inquiring mind, talk about what you see and want to know with your child.  Verbalize your personal wonder and then seek the answer together!  The Internet is an easily accessible and amazing source of information.  (Do be sure to be cautious about your searches so that you are accessing credible information. Many libraries and schools have online catalogs of sources that have been screened for credibility.)

Really listen to the whys.  As parents of young children, it is so easy to tune out once you hear that magic word.  Instead of tuning out, really listen to the question and take a moment to think about where this inquiring mind is trying to go.  As educators, we know that inquiry-based learning is the key to creating critical thinkers in our 21st century world of business and education.  Inquiry-based learning is just a fancy way to say, “Let’s stop a moment and think about why these things happen.”  Your young child may not be asking why the Cold War started (as we hope our middle school history students will), but the early inquiry process must be fostered and honored.  If we sweep our young inquiring minds under the carpet, or even worse, squash this innate desire to know and understand the world around them, our future learners are in great jeopardy.  The next time your child asks you why, try answering this way: “I don’t know son, but let’s go find out together.”  But then, be sure you go find out!

What if your child is no longer asking why?  Quick, before it’s too late, start asking your child why things happen. What makes the sky blue? Where do fish sleep at night?  Pay attention to what your child is interested in and start there.  Take one aspect of an interest and start asking questions yourself.  Seek additional resources to stimulate questioning.  We have wonderful resources in the Tampa Bay area.  Visit the any of our fantastic state parks, the Glazer Children’s Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI), Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo, the Florida Aquarium, the Big Cat Rescue, the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary, the Tampa Museum of Art, the Dali Museum and more. The list is endless!  All of these resources are filled with opportunities to light a fire under young minds (if you help them to start to ask the right questions).

Summer is a perfect time to enjoy your family and learning something new together is one of the most satisfying moments to share.  Embrace the why, learn something new and foster wonder. It will be the best back-to-school preparation you can provide your children and I promise it will be fun!

Judy Vincent Kent is the director of curriculum and instruction at Academy at the Lakes, a PK3-12th grade independent school in the north Tampa area.  For more information, visit www.academyatthelakes.org

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