Five-year-old Mary asked, “If I curled into a cocoon, would I turn into a butterfly too?” What a great opportunity for teaching about cocoons, chrysalises, and the metamorphosis of a caterpillar to a butterfly. If the time and place are right, a wonderful approach to answering this child’s question would be to find a caterpillar and watch the changes it goes through in the weeks ahead.
In our busy lives it often seems difficult, if not impossible, to capture precious teaching moments with our children. But as we take advantage of these occasions, we help create in children an insatiable curiosity and an enthusiasm for learning. Here are some guidelines that have helped me learn to capture teaching moments with my children.
Listen purposefully to children. As you listen, use their questions and comments as springboards for discovery and problem solving. For example, researching questions such as “What do ants eat?” “Why do crickets chirp slower in the fall than in the summer?” and “Did Nephi love his brothers Laman and Lemuel?” led us to some interesting facts and new understandings.
Also, when you listen to children’s questions and comments, you can give feedback to clarify their understanding. A child visited a dairy farm with his school class and observed the cows being milked with the use of machinery. As the group was leaving, he tugged at the farmer’s arm and asked, “How can you tell when the cow is full?” The wise farmer turned around and took the machinery off one of the cows; then he milked the cow by hand so the children could see that milk was coming from the cow.
No matter what age children are, when parents or other adults really listen to them and then talk with them, offering insights to their questions and comments, children will grow in their understanding and desire to learn and seek answers.
Encourage thinking, problem solving, and thoughtfulness. One approach is to use open-ended questions, such as “How do you feel about … ?” “What do you suppose will happen if … ?” “Have you thought about … ?” and “What would you do if … ?”
Another approach is to provide books on subjects that interest the child. For example, after hearing about an earthquake, our sixth-grader wondered what the Richter scale was. Finding and exploring books on the subject not only answered the question but led to further understanding about earthquakes.
Take advantage of teaching moments as they happen. Questions can be forgotten, perceptions can change, interest can wane, and thoughtfulness and inquiry can be lost if teaching opportunities are put off until later.
Wonderful opportunities to teach and to reinforce important concepts will come every day, but it takes time to seize those teaching moments. It takes time to ponder and discuss a scripture story, time to stop on a hike to explore what is under a rock, and time to show photographs of a child’s great-grandpa. But the time and effort spent is eternally worthwhile as we see our children develop a deeper understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the world in which they live.