I have a confession to make: Whenever I see something really cool, I'm tempted to turn it into a Learning Opportunity. See the clouds in the sky? Tell the kids all about water vapor and the names of the different clouds. Cooking? Talk about fractions. Reading a book? See how many words fine young gent, four, can read. (Five-- mom, dad, cat, you and Tolly. Oh, six. He can read "exit" too.)
Here's the catch: It can get tiresome after a while. Not for me. I love sharing about the world around us. I'm pretty gung-ho about the things that we find in our world, but I have to catch myself. I want the kids to learn and explore and find out for themselves too. Foisting information on the ladies and gents when they're exploring the intricacies of a flower petal can be counter-productive. Maybe they're looking at the shading and shape of the flower while I'm blabbing on about stamen, pistil and pollen.
Today, to stave off an impending disagreement between the gents over a stick, of all things, I grabbed a leaf skeleton off the ground. "Cool, look at this!" I said. I am smart enough by now that instead of trying to give it to the gents while I said that, I stooped down to their level and looked at it myself. I explained that the leaf had partially rotted away leaving just the veins. Then I gave it to them and stepped back. They brought it inside.
A little later I took the leaf and set it on a piece of white paper. "What are you doing with the leaf, Mom?" asked a gent from across the room.
"Nothing. Just setting it on white paper to see the veins better." I wordlessly set three magnifying glasses on the table and walked away.
All three boys were at the table in a flash. Next thing I knew the older two were out on the front walk with the magnifying glasses looking at blooming flowers. In again, flowers in hand: "Mom, can we look at these in the microscope?"
Fine young gent, six, wanted to draw the magnified view of the flower next to the nature sketch he'd done of that same flower bush earlier in the day. Next to his drawing, I wrote his description of what he saw without offering correct names for parts of the flower.
Then they looked at the leaf skeleton in the microscope.
When we see those prime teaching opportunities it's so tempting, for me at least, to jump in and start teaching. And correcting, which can be even more tiresome. It must be a bit disheartening to have something cool to say about the pink stem thingie and be interrupted with "That's the filament, dear. It's part of the stamen. The stamen blah blah blah...."
Sometimes we need to step back and remember that allowing children the time and the opportunity to learn about the world unhampered by vocabulary and facts is just as important as creating Learning Opportunities. Sometimes we need to find shapes in the clouds, to enjoy spending time together in the kitchen, to snuggle with a story. Time to just explore is important-- so that when we find a leaf in the back yard we can follow down whatever path we choose. Or not. Maybe the leaf isn't interesting that day and we'll find a feather or a flower or start counting marbles. Part of my job is to teach my kids, absolutely. And part of my job is to provide an enriched environment and then step back and let them think.