I’m by no means an expert in child-rearing, but I have read quite a few articles about baby talking to infants. Some people are vehemently opposed to anything that smacks of treating babies like, well, babies, while others find baby talk an innocent, enjoyable past time. Who can resist those chubby cheeks and the adoring noises that seem to greet “Hewwo dere my widdle pumpkin pie”? So maybe I’ve outed myself as a proponent of baby talk. However, once a child starts talking, I think the time to baby talk has passed.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Silly voices and saying nice things is always in style at any age, in my book. What I mean is that it’s time to stop trying to dumb the world down for our kids once they reach the age of verbal communication. Dumbing down doesn’t mean explaining things in a way that children can understand, it means that you don’t think a child is capable of understanding and so you dismiss the concept without a second thought.
Here’s a recent example from our family to help clarify. A few months ago, we went to a science exhibit about dinosaurs in Toronto. Our youngest, a 5-year-old bound for kindergarten, was pretty engaged in the exhibit, and we started playing a game where she had to identify whether a dinosaur was a meat-eating carnivore or a plant-eating herbivore, or if it was like humans and was an omnivore, who enjoyed both plants and meat. Rather than just saying “does it eat meat or plants or both”, we took the time to define carnivores, herbivores, and omnivores. When she responded with “it eats meat” someone would reply, “so it’s a carnivore”.
That’s what education is all about, after all. It’s an ongoing explanation of things. Maybe our youngest still has a tough time remembering what these different terms mean, but we continue to bring them up in conversation and have her repeat the information back to us. So yesterday, in between eating squash and corn, when she informed us that T-rex ate meat, the entire table chorused back, “that means that T-rex is a carnivore,” it wasn’t a big surprise.