Wednesday, April 6, 2011

What Do They Know? What Do You Think They Know?

When I told my daughter, Captain Chaos, that it was time to start her schoolwork, she responded with great energy. 
“I know what we can do!” she exclaimed as she ran off to her pink plastic milk crate filled with books. 
She bypassed our entire standard curriculum and returned with a School Zone kindergarten workbook, one of those books you can find on the shelves at your local Wal*mart.   We worked on a page that asked the young girl to correctly identify the order of events pictured by writing a 1, 2, or 3 under each picture. 

The first three pictures showed a boy ordering a hamburger off of a menu at a restaurant.  She correctly identified the order of events: read the menu, deliver the food, and eat the hamburger.  Then we came to the second series of pictures.  You can see by her answers her idea of the correct order of events, and no amount of questioning or suggesting could shake her belief that the dog first sat on its bone, then dug up the bone, and then returned it to its master.   Her six-year-old logic was unshakeable.
Page two was marginally better. 
At the bottom of the page she quickly ordered the events pictured from baby to girl to woman.  No problems.  But building a snowman?  As you can see, she put the pictures in perfect reverse order.  
“Captain, what is the first thing you have to do if you are going to make a snowman?” I asked her.
She pointed to the first picture.  “Make a big snowball!” she exclaimed.
“Okay, but before you make a big snowball, there is something you have to do first,” I coached.
She pointed to the snowman’s face in the second picture.  “You need to get a carrot for the snowman’s nose, you goofy-head!” she replied, lovingly patient with my ignorance.
What could I have been thinking?     
Several attempts at leading her though the correct order of events failed.  I know a lost cause when I see one, so I let the girl run off to play while I put away the workbook and collected the rest of her lessons. 
Why was it so easy for her to identify the order of operations in two sets of pictures but be completely clueless about the other two?  The answer came to me when she pointed to the snowman.  We don’t get much snow here.  In her entire lifetime, we’ve only built one snowman.    She understands that people grow up from babies to children to adults.  Her doll play along with her own development and her relationship to adults shows her that.  She also eats in restaurants.  But neither of our dogs digs holes to bury bones.  They eat them, growling the entire time at our chickens who try to steal a beef knuckle for their own enjoyment.  The process of a dog burying a bone simply isn’t in her knowledge base, so the pictures made absolutely no sense to her.  And I couldn’t explain it in a manner that made sense.
I know.  I’m a goofy-head.
It’s easy to forget that our children have a knowledge base from which they operate.  It’s equally easy to assume that they understand something that we’ve known for so long that we forget when we learned it.  Dogs bury bones.  That’s a “fact.”  It doesn’t matter that I’ve never seen a dog bury a bone outside of “Butch” from Tom & Jerry.  I’ve been told they do from countless sources.  This made me wonder, how often do we make assumptions about our children’s knowledge base that turn out to be untrue? 
What have you learned about what your child does and does not know, and how did you learn it?


  1. I learned something interesting about how my youngest viewed her world when she was 2 or 3 years old. She had been particularly demanding one day and I finally lost my temper and yelled, "You are not the queen of this house!" She looked at me, confused, and asked, "Then who is?"

    I love the way your daughter thinks. I was never good at those picture order problems either. Neither was my oldest. My feeling is it marks a highly creative mind that doesn't view the world in one direction. Just to warn you, this type of creativity is also not that good at taking tests because we think too much. :o)

    Peace and Laughter!

  2. This is so true!! And such a great reminder! It makes me wonder how many times I've been impatient with my children's lack of understanding of what seemed to me to be such a simple concept, but was in fact just a lack of knowledge base!!

    Funny story from when I was a teenager counseling at Bible camp. We were singing a song one evening around the campfire. The chorus of the song we were singing had the word "Maranatha" (which means "The Lord is coming")in it repeatedly. I began to realize that my campers were singing something else! The were singing "Mary and Martha" every time the rest of us sang "Maranatha"!!!

    "Mary & Martha" were in their knowledge base. "Maranatha" was not!! :-)

    Great lesson to remember!!

  3. I am not now, nor was I ever, a homeschooling mom! I'm only the mother of one, and the grandma of 4 homeschooled grandkids - extremely bright ones, I have to say. I could NEVER have homeschooled my kids. However, I wish that I had had your wisdom, Arby, as I was teaching them other things. This is a great teaching tool. Thank you. I'll try to remember to use it with my grandkids, and others that I now DO teach.

  4. I agree with you!! They can only learn from their experiences. In their lifetime, its snowed about six times. And it takes a few years in between. Of course, you don't need boots, coats, gloves, and hats to go least they think so. It takes all my patience and then I realize that I grew up in Buffalo and they did not!!

    have a wonderful week!

  5. I look at this as one of those times that, as a parent, and especially as a home-schooling parent, you just have to laugh. We are all just winging it in a way, though as time goes on and we have children, like I do, that we actually graduate from our home-school program who go on to graduate from college, we certainly "get it" more and more often.

    But just cherish those "silly" moments whether it's your child being silly or your child thinking you are a "silly-head." All precious moments!

  6. I wanted to let you know I posted about how youre post touched me on our homeschool blog: