Thursday, August 27, 2009

Seeing the World Through a Child's Eyes

The things that fascinate adults may not impress children at all and vice versa. In my latest Home News Tribune column I discuss this topic.

You can try to impress young children by showing them the wonders of the world, but it might not be a good investment of your time. What you think will leave them awestruck doesn't, and the seemingly minor details of life will amaze them. So don't try to predict what will fascinate them. Instead, just observe, listen, and learn.

An article that sparked my interest in this topic appeared in The New York Times: "Test Subjects Who Call the Scientist Mom or Dad." In it, Pam Belluck describes scientists who use their children as research subjects. Studying their own children allows researchers a more in-depth investigation. Their children make reliable participants and are willing subjects in an era of scarce research funding.

One MIT professor embedded 11 video cameras and 14 microphones in ceilings throughout his house; he recorded 70 percent of his son's waking hours for his first three years. He amassed 250,000 hours of tape for a language development study that he called "The Human Speechnome Project," according to Belluck.

Similarly (and don't tell my daughter and son-in-law) I am constantly studying my toddler grandson's every move and word, but without cameras and microphones. I cherish the opportunity to watch his growth and development up close and in real time. I soak up every detail of what he sees, hears, touches, and interacts with. The phone rings and he says, "Uh-oh," which is an interesting reaction. He's fascinated by a daddy long-legs bug and pursues it with no fear whatsoever. I was yelling, "Yuckee bug ? don't touch!" and he continues on his mission to investigate how something so small can move so fast on its own.

He could say "up" or "outside" to me, since he regularly uses these words, but sometimes he'll simply choose to walk over and grab my finger, start pulling, and take me exactly where he wants us to go. Dare I attempt to guess what he's thinking, or what he finds interesting? Not a chance.

Recently, when my grandson was visiting our home, there was a backhoe on our block excavating a basement for a new house. I came home from work, ran inside, grabbed my grandson and his jacket, and hurried down the block to watch the backhoe with him. The machine operator saw us, waved, and beeped his horn. In my mind, I couldn't imagine anything more exciting for a little child to experience. That's when my grandson turned, pointed and screamed "Ball!" He was thrilled to point out to me that there was a basketball sitting nearby on another neighbor's lawn. That which I figured would mesmerize him, clearly did not.

Do adults know what impresses young children? Try asking our "father-in-chief" of the United States. While appearing on the "Tonight" show several months ago, President Barack Obama described how impressive the ride is in Marine One. The helicopter lifted off the White House lawn and headed for Camp David. Below, symbols of our nation's history were in full view.

Soaring higher, they flew over the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Monument. Quite an impressive sight, don't you agree? Sasha Obama, while scanning the amenities of the presidential helicopter, was oblivious to the magnificent view, and asked her Dad, "Can I have one of those Starburst candies in the jar?" She was appreciating Marine One on her own childlike level and her father was intuitive enough to understand that.

This column is dedicated to our grandson on his second birthday.
Be Counted columnist Dr. Alan Singer is a marriage therapist in Highland Park. Respond to this column via his website