When my six year old child – out of the blue – asked me what shape juggling is, I was excited and perplexed. I eventually worked it through with paper and pencil, and discussed it with him at great length. We talked about trajectories, start and end points, and the path of the hands (elliptical) compared to the path of the balls in flight (parabolic). I was really proud of myself as a parent that day. Here are some important things I’ve learned about talking to kids, which I think are worth repeating.
1) Always try to address the child’s questions
2) Use age-appropriate words, without being patronizing
3) Ask questions to elicit what they already know
Maybe they didn’t need to ask at all?
4) Check how much they are understanding, and adjust your approach
5) Be honest about what you don’t know, and let them see your thinking process
The right answer is frequently context-dependent. If the child is interested, it’s valuable to talk about both answers and their context.
7) Be mindful of your habits
Many questions can be given a “yes” or a “no” answer if you change the context. If I’m having a day when I answer every question with “no” that’s a habit. I need to stop myself and think.
8) If you don’t know an answer, it’s also ok to talk about who you would ask to find the answer, or what tools you would use to research it.