Today was one of those days when a radio PSA actually had an impact as it spurred memories of hauling toddlers everywhere and having them constantly underfoot. The PSA in question is for Born Learning, a public education/advocacy campaign sponsored by the Ad Council and the United Way which promotes the everyday, omnipresent opportunities to teach even the smallest children. The underlying message is that children, from infants onwards, are eminently capable of learning if we’re willing to put it in front of them; the presentation doesn’t have to happen at a table with a book or in any formal setting.
The aired PSA featured a father – guys, teaching about the world is at the heart of fatherhood – chatting with his toddler while driving. He points out a red car – VROOM VROOM! – and talks about color, the fact that the car can go and praises his son when he grasps the concepts. The underlying adult humor is the introduction of the blue police car which will soon give the red car’s driver a pink ticket. It drives the point home that our children are eager to be engaged and the opportunities to teach are literally endless, provided we put forward the thought to notice them and effort to pursue them.
What are some of the things that you can do?
- When you carry your baby up the stairs, quietly count them as you go.
- When you pick something up, simply state what it is and perhaps sound out the first letter (A is for Apple).
- If you see a bright color, state what that color is and see if your child can repeat or sound out the word.
- An example from the website is having your child hand you a specified number of something when you request (Please hand me three eggs…)
Consider this if you don’t think that what you do is really having an impact. The starter on my wife’s car died this weekend and through the course of a teen-directed scenario, it was ultimately replaced by a 20 year-old friend of Eldest’s. As he dismantled the air intake and removed the air filter to even reach the starter, we chatted and I found that this young man had been under cars with his own father from the time that he was less than two years old. His story was confirmed by someone else there and while I don’t recommend taking Junior the toddler under the chassis, it goes to the heart of the fatherhood experience. Your job is to teach and along with the mundanities outlined, you can include your kids in your own favorite activities and use that to bring them along.
Your infant’s mind is akin to a blank canvas sitting in a studio. By pure dint of living, that canvas will be filled with all manner of media, figures and images. Your job as a father is not to paint that canvas, but to help direct and guide the child as she fills the canvas, providing suitable imagery for the work – do you really want your kid channeling Chris Rock? – and helping to establish a context so that everything becomes coherent, enabling the child to gain a full appreciation for her world. The unfortunate reality is that if you aren’t going to do it, there are plenty of others out there who will happily take on the project, but the materials won’t be satisfactory and it won’t be in the child’s best interest.
Get started, she’s waiting.