I have a file in my office that is crammed with art and science activity ideas and instructions. In my 47 different Pinterest boards are even more kid experiments and educational mess making schemes. All of these projects share a wholesome bent to their central lessons. I tuck these things away because I completely buy into the promise – however real – that my children will glean creativity and robust imagination proficiencies to go with their burgeoning reasoning and problem solving skills.
I fantasize about discovering that my son is a genius artist or math savant as I flip through my index cards scrawled with science and art plans. I imagine myself to be a cool Mom when I say yes to allow him to finger-paint all over the refrigerator door and the dining room floor. Or when I say yes to let him turn my printed thesis into paper airplanes and giant 3-D snowflakes for the holidays. At heart I am a sucker for this kid’s imagination. At worst I am fearful that this stuff is just floating past him in a blur of kid clutter.
I don’t imagine that my children’s minds are like some mystical tabula rasa. Instead, their little minds seem to me to be more like super sticky globs of glue and that it is my job to throw as much information and experience their way in hopes that some of it sticks. But almost none of it seems to cement into epiphanies on self-control or understanding new things.
Case in point, I take my oldest son to museums and farmers markets, I teach him to paint and sculpt in my studio, I read to him for an hour everyday, I give him time to play alone and to figure out his big problems in life. He has his own 10 x 10 foot garden plot. And yet, he still asks me 100 times a day why his pretend bow and arrow (made out of a toothbrush and a hair elastic) won’t shoot a stuffed dog across the room. Is he getting any of this stuff, I wonder? Is this wholesome educational stuff a complete waste of time?
Yesterday we made pinwheels. My son was more interested in playing with the hot glue gun. I let him pretend to shoot stuff with it until it was time to plug it in and then his hands became focused on construction paper and pipe cleaners. We talked about the six simple machines. We talked about wind power. We talked about how cool the hot glue gun is. Then we finished the damn pinwheel. And you know what? He spun it once, threw it across the room and then asked if he could have a snack and shoot stuff with his toothbrush bow.
Last night after my fearless archer went to sleep I poured a glass of wine and ignored my desk where I plan out the next days lessons and activities. I blew it off. I’m going to let the poor kid off the Exuberant Mom Hook for the day. That plaster volcano can wait. I’ll just give the child a bowl with baking soda and vinegar and let him have at it. Maybe I’ll leave the grand (but still tailored to a 4 year-olds understanding) explanation for some other day. Fun will rein for a wee bit.
I wish I could know the secret of how to balance information and fun with stickable knowledge for my children. I don’t wish for photographic memories or even a mechanical sense of gratitude toward my efforts here. I’m not asking my children to immediately recognize that I am trying with all my might to teach them important stuff. I just want to know, maybe in my gut, that this stuff matters and that my children will be the better for it.