Sometimes I think that if I hear “why?” one more time I’ll probably scream or have a nervous breakdown or something. Sometimes (especially when I’m busy) I wish that my children were a little more like Lord Cardigan’s soldiers in Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade (Their’s not to reason why, their’s but to do…). And sometimes I do say “No, more questions.” and get a few minutes of silence.
Most of the time however “why?” is a good question. It shows that the children are trying to understand how the world works and how they should interact with it and with each other. Most of the time I answer “why?” with an explanation or “why do you think?” because I want my children to know how to think.
Today one of the “why” conversations went something like this.
F (3 yrs. old): We need to put our jackets on so we don’t get sun-burned.
Me: No, we need jackets so we don’t get too cold. It’s the wrong time of year for sunburn.
F (3 yrs. old):Why?
Me: Because the earth is farther from the sun so the sun isn’t as hot right now and can’t burn us.
F (3 yrs. old):Why?
Me: Is the oven hotter when you are close or far away?
F (3 yrs. old):Close.
Me: Right, and the earth is farther away from the sun at this time of the year, so do you think the sun is more hot or less hot?
F (3 yrs. old): (after some pondering) Less hot.
Me: and that’s why the weather is colder in the fall than the summer.
OK he probably won’t really remember this conversation and if he does he’ll probably mix it up somehow (like he mixed up my explanation of “incarnate” with my explanation of how his sister caught his cold and told me last night that if I washed his face with the same cloth I used for her he would be “ingermated”): what he will remember is that there are explanations for most things in the world and that understanding how the world works is important. That will make him eager to learn and those who learn life-long never grow stale!