“Mommy, why does it rain?” They were walking to the van, wet from a swim and laden with damp towels, refreshed and tired.
“Oh, it just does. You never know about the weather; it just happens.”
Did the young mother hear the question? That the child wanted to know, was still motivated to learn and know, in stages, about her world? She didn’t mean it, surely, but she communicated not only ignorance (despite probably knowing more than she felt like sharing just then), but a lack of curiosity. In that moment, she did not take responsibility for her role, one of her roles, in her daughter’s life. Later that sort of question will be on a science test, and will she have lost her wonder by then? Meanwhile, mother is teacher. Without even trying, without learning objectives, lesson plans, or credentials, she is the main source, and channel to almost all kinds of knowing (And father, in his times with the children). And ways of not knowing, wondering, finding out, and putting it all together.
I loved those moments with my kids–still do, when they come. I still have those kinds of questions myself, though they stray into the abstract nature of things as well. Sure, there’s mystery, gray areas, and not every question can be answered straight. But let’s see how far we can go. Suppose the mother truly couldn’t remember, didn’t know why it rains. Could she have answered, at the very least, “I wonder….those raindrops made you ask, didn’t they? Where are they coming from? Why did they start to come down lately? It wasn’t raining, and then it was–did you see anything change? Does the air feel different now? Would you like to read about rain when we get home? Maybe we can learn to know when it will rain… I know a Tom Hunter song with rain in it…”
Personally, I prefer that approach to a clinical explanation of the water cycle, complete with all the necessary vocabulary words, unless the child’s personality tends to prefer that approach–a few do. As dismayed as I was to hear this mom lose a teaching opportunity, I am perhaps more irritated when a parent launched into a full explanation that steamrolls their child’s curiosity and her participation in the process. Some of us have to learn to hold back, be patient, leave think time. But let’s all of us remember that we as parents are the primary teachers of our children, and not delegate that task to some formal program too early, if ever. And if you feel school days looming over you and your five year old like a dark rain cloud, instead of an exciting new phase in which you feel glad to actively participate, you can always homeschool.