Last week I was at the grocer pushing my little cart through the dairy aisle, and heard part of a conversation. It made my soul sad and my brain hurt.
Girl (about 12, nerdy, skinny, big glasses, buck teeth. In other words, the once and former me): How does Kroger get the cheese?
Boy (obviously a bratty younger brother): Yeah, how does Kroger get its cheese?
Dad (business casual, starched shirt, soft briefcase slung over the handle of the cart): ” … ”
Girl: So, I don’t know how they get cheese. Dad, how do they know what to put in the store?
Dad (looking in freezer case): “…”
Girl: I don’t know how Kroger gets the food and puts it in the case. Where does it come from?
Dad: They use computers.
Girl (not satisfied but realized she’s not going to get an answer): Mumble, mumble, food, mumble Kroger.
Me (not being able to pass by a teaching opportunity): See the barcode on this ice cream? The computer at the store has a big list of everything in the store, so when I buy this ice cream, the computer knows there is one less in the freezer. After several people buy the ice cream, and there is only a few left, the computer sends a message to the big Kroger warehouse, and tells them “Hey, you’re almost out of Blue Bell Moo-Llennium Crunch, you better send a case to the store in this town.” Same thing with cheese, or milk, or apples. It’s called an Inventory System.
Me: Inventory. Pretty cool, huh? All kinds of places have inventory so they know how much stuff they have, how much they sell, and what to get to put in the stores.
Dad: ” … ”
Girl and Boy: That’s really neat. Thank you, ma’am. Cool. Good night!
You know what? I may not have the Greater Kroger Supermarket Inventory System story just right, but I bet it’s close. My explanation was reasonable. But that’s not even the point. I answered the children’s questions with a simple, age-appropriate answer. They learned something new. Their curiosity was answered, and it will encourage them to ask more questions. Maybe the Formerly-Me little girl will realize that most questions have an answer, or part of an answer, or no answer, but she won’t take silence or dismissal. If there is no answer, maybe she’ll hunt for one. Maybe she won’t accept answers like “God did it” or “because I said so.”
Kids are like that. They explore, they touch, they feel, they put everything in their mouths or up their noses. They eat dirt, sit on the dog, take the doll’s head off to see what happens. And gradually, as they get unsatisfying answers, or they enter a school system where the study of science is a collection of facts rather than a process of investigation, and all the curiosity is ripped out of their soul. They are forced to read novels that don’t speak to them, learn history as dates rather than stories.
They become bored, and they lose their need to know, their thirst for everything and anything.
When a child asks you a question, one of curiosity, don’t dismiss them. Even if they ask you something you know nothing about, help them find out. Use the Internet, go to the library or a museum, ask the fricking manager at the Kroger how she knows what to order to keep the shelves stocked.
Grow a scientist. Because, you know, DINOSAURS AND PLUTO AND ROCKS AND ICKY BUGS AND VOLCANOES!