For some reason themes are important. They lend a structural element to ideas and notions that we think may be too complex for our simple minds to wrap around. As a teacher, I was taught to start with what the student knows and build on that. Most often, a theme was involved. Ideas and real-life, tangible objects combined in a way so a child could relate to them and make sense of the more ethereal concepts we were trying to teach. Concepts such as: Parts of a Whole (division)-using an apple to illustrate the amount of one whole and then later having the students devise a way to equally and fairly share the apple, then not wanting to leave to waste a teachable moment-or an apple; using the the fruit to illustrate color recognition, letter-sound correspondence, syllabication, simple physics, the scientific process, art appreciation, and anything else that might ever so slightly apply, gorging the students minds with the theme and hoping at the end of the lesson that they came away with some of the actual concepts.
This process works-most of the time. And when it doesn't, the child who doesn't grasp the concept, most often, still believes in what you are trying to teach them. Why? Because, children have their own overriding theme that governs the thought process. FAITH. A firm belief in something which there is no proof. We try endlessly and tirelessly (OK, maybe not so tirelessly) as parents to provide the proof, when actually, children have an innate assurity that things in the universe are occurring because they just are. Sure, they question things, but without our influences and constant input, they are happy in their own conclusions and can come up with some pretty astounding theories on their own.
Even Einstein had some crazy ideas in his day. His ideas where simply ideas. Yet, he had the brilliancy to take bits and pieces of others theories and apply them to his own (outside of the box) notions. Not confident in his abilities to perform actual experiments to test his hypothesis, he would imagine them. Thought Experiments- his preferred and most accurate testing method -was a heuristic mode of thinking, altering complete lines of reasoning in more than one school of thought (physics, mathematics, astronomy)- and even art and literature.
Children, I'm discovering, do this naturally. They need no proof when it comes down to the ideas and concepts we (as more logical, educated beings) have deemed as unfathomable or too complicated for their young minds. The have a capacity to create their own theme, apply it to the situation and preform a thought experiment that satisfies and encompasses the situation.
This is what I'm talking about...
On the way there I used my best mommy speak, trying to convey the situation they would encounter in relatable, 2 and 4 year old vocabulary.
He's sick, and we are going to visit and tell him we love him so that he can feel better. He can't talk to you, because he had a stroke that makes his voice not able to work anymore. You can tell him about your picture you drew and tell him that you love him. You have to use your quite voice and behave...OK?
The four year old grasped the theme of the lesson. I could see that she was assimilating the information with the background knowledge she had and was planning ahead. It was the two year old I was worried about.
As we pulled into the parking lot, the four year old exclaimed, "Hey, this isn't Jido's house?!!"
No, remember, I said that he is really sick? Well, this is a place, sort of like a hospital, where they have special doctors and nurses that can help take care or him.
It was at this point that my two year old, stepped outside of the box. He introduced me to his own theme; created to make meaning out of this incomprehensible situation. "Don't worry Jido, we're coming to rescue you!"
Where did that come from? Quite possibly it was the word help. After all, superheros help those in dire situations all the time. It's their mission.
As we entered the facility, the four year old clung close. Her anxiety felt through the grasp of her hand. Entering his room, she shied away and tried to hide behind me. My theme of care and concern, had been conveyed as apprehension. The two year old grasped the concept of help and had taken it upon himself to be the helper. He chattered away about the picture his older sister had drawn earlier (with complete confidence that the stick figure drawing would, '...help Jido feel better' ) and gave away hugs and kisses freely without any hint of anxiety.
As we walked down the hall to leave, two women sitting in wheelchairs made mention of the kids. My pint-size superhero, approached them and began to converse freely. The women commented on his cuteness and he in turn held their hand for a moment, gazing at them with a look of sheer delight. He talked to them. They weren't sure what he was saying, neither was I. It didn't matter. He had faith that what he was telling them was helping, that his sheer presence in this unknown place was making them happy.
And it was.