Sunday, October 12, 2014

Can Kids Make You Smarter?

Many years ago, an acquaintance landed a great writing gig.

A children’s publisher had asked him to write about the how’s of everyday life. How does the electricity in your house work? How do airplanes work? How do computers work? All stuff adults supposedly know, and know clearly, but that most of us are – come on, admit it – a bit fuzzy on.

The great thing, he said, was that, while interviewing experts, he didn’t have to admit what he didn’t know. If he didn’t understand, he could say, “Yes, yes, of course, we as adults understand that, but how would you explain it to a child?”

My daughter recently started college. She calls to tell me what she’s up to and it’s the same things I faced when I was her age: figuring out classes, being nervous about making friends, handling roommate disagreements. (At orientation, a school representative asked for a show of hands from parents, “How many of your kids have never shared a room before?” Most hands went up. He waited a beat, then said, “Yeah, well, thanks a lot.”)

My daughter is dealing with these things, in many cases better than I did when I was her age, and it is instructive for me to watch her. Also, it is instructive, for me, to try to help her.

It was the same when she and her brother were young. Sit near a sandbox for an afternoon and you can observe every human emotion and impulse being thoroughly explored. And sometimes you are required to intervene.

Some studies, summarized here, show brain changes in parents that make (rodent, at least) parents “smarter.”

Given what happens when you interact with kids – explaining things to them, watching them work things out on their own – that makes perfect sense to me.

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