Familiar Conversations

by Mary Ann on May 11, 2010

One of the great benefits of having a well stocked, well managed Spark Station is that it provides great fodder for “familiar conversation”. That comes from a great quote by George Turnbull, 1742.

“By familiar conversation, children’s curiosity may be roused much more effectually, and by it they may be taught a great deal more in a little time, than can possibly be done in the austere magisterial way of calling them to a lecture.” In short, a spontaneous conversation between parent and child teaches more than the best lecture.

I have had the opportunity to have some of these spontaneous conversations with my children. You know the kind, when they notice something and ask about it or they ask a question and you just talk about it.

Let me give you an example. My twenty year old was reading Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet A. Jacobs. I decided to read the book also because Kate said that she would like to talk about it. We have had a few small discussions about the character of different people in the book. This has led to conversations about why people act the way they do and believe the things they do.

I was telling my ten year old granddaughter about the book. That led to a comment on freedom and the fact that I had just attended a caucus. Then there was a description about what a caucus was and who can go and why we should go. That led into a discussion about Fredrick Douglas and who he was and how he worked for freedom for slaves, women and other minority groups. I had to do this via letter as she lives far away.

If Aubrey lived here I would have made sure I had a few other books in my Spark Station on those subjects. I would have had some coloring pages or possibly a poem book that mentions freedom, etc. I would have had some things about the revolutionary war and the civil war, possibly uniforms, what women wore then, what children were taught, why the wars were different, etc. What I would want to do is give her an opportunity to make comments, ask questions or talk about how people behaved. It would be in those mini conversations where she would learn about human nature, values that bring happiness, how to treat others, what is right and wrong. All this would be much more effective than reading a text book and then being tested on what could be remembered.

So put things in your closet that can spark conversations with your children. Let me give you one more example. On a walk one of the families I work with met a neighbor who happened to have lived in Africa. He invited them in and told them many stories about his experiences. This was a spark that the mother could really build on. She could add papier-mâché to her closet and a book on mask making. She could have pictures of African animals or wooden animals to paint. She could have some bead making materials and a book that tells about barter and mediums of exchange. I would add a book on Nelson Mandela. While engaged in making and painting masks lots of different conversations can take place, who is Nelson Mandela, what is apartheid, why does freedom matter, how did so many people lose their freedom, is education important to the people and why, why are some leaders good leaders and some aren’t, how can we choose good leaders, how should we treat other people, does skin color matter, how is the continent of Africa different than No. America, how is it the same, how can countries change their names, has America ever changed its name, is it ok for one country to rule another, what happens if the people don’t want to be ruled (like America) and the list can go on and on. You never know what a child might want to talk about.

So really pay attention to sparks and opportunities for “familiar conversations” with your child. They will accent and speed the learning process.

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