Last night was the fourth of July. Not just any fourth of July, though. It was the one in the year 2020.
Coronavirus has held the entire world hostage. The city where I live is currently ordering a “stay at home” mandate.
We Hays’ usually gather with lots of friends and family, set up big tables filled with food and afterwards, drive somewhere big to see a patriotic firework display. But not this year. This year we would spend it with just our home family.
We lit fireworks in our front street. As we ran out of fireworks, we could hear the popping and see the sparkling from other stay at home families in our neighborhood. Katy did not want the celebration to end. Every time a firework popped in the distance, she would burst out laughing and clapping.
It was a hot night, and everyone wanted to get back inside. Everyone, except Katy. I asked her if she wanted to go for a walk to look at the fireworks scattered across the sky. She enthusiastically accepted my offer, snatched my hand and led me away. We sped along the sidewalk, and Katy would occasionally reach out and hold my hand as we did.
During our walk, I pointed out everything I could, having as normal a conversation as I would with any other person. The difference was that this was pretty close to a one way conversation broken up every now and then with Katy’s one to three word observations and statements.
“Yes,” I would reply as I extended the statement, “Fireworks pop loud, don’t they?”
I narrated things to her based on what we were stumbling upon or what sparked her interest. I tried to expand her receptive vocabulary by making observations and adding detail. After all, speech first comes receptively and then expressively. With Katy’s interest piqued, I took hold of that chance.
I connected abstract concepts to real life.
“Look Katy! I see a floating lantern up there! I’ve never seen one in real life! They’re like the ones in Rapunzel!”
I reinforced reading environmental print.
“Oh, stop! Look down! See this circle? Do you know what it says?” I would ask her as I pointed out to a sewer drain.
“Water!” Katy would read.
“Yes! That’s where the water drains to. It’s underground!”
I emphasized geographic information by making her notice the street signs. I explained that every street had a name and would point out to her what street we were on as we walked.
I worked with numbers as we discovered that every mailbox on the street had a different number and showed how that number matched the house that it belonged to.
I worked on social skills and safety every time we hit a corner. As we were getting ready to cross, I explained to her how it was important to stop, look both ways twice and cross only when there were no cars to be seen. Whenever we came across a crosswalk with lights, I taught her what the symbols meant, how they worked and how she could use it.
I’m starting to believe that learning comes best through casual, relational conversations. It gives the context its meaning. It gives information a practical and executable use. If we can just take a hold of teachable moments and seize opportunities to reach our children at their level while using their interest as the wind behind their sail, little by little, we will travel far.