Adventures with my niece

‘Alisha, where does the cashpoint get its money from?’
VVVVV
And my niece will frown and squint her eyes into her ‘thinking pose’. She’ll screw her nose into a bear muzzle, and she’ll suck the question through and through – like a boiled sweet. But she won’t answer. Because she doesn’t know the answer. So I tell her:
ffffff
‘Alisha, there’s a little man on the other side of the cashpoint and he pushes the money through when you press the buttons’
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I can see her brain mulling this over. A little man – on the other side – with lots of money – pushing it through, Mmm…she seems satisfied with my answer.
ggggg
I can see the new direction her mind is going: ‘Uncle? Now you have no excuse for not buying me everything I want’
gggg
I played another Q & A game with her the other day. I wanted to know whether she knew the difference between a ‘living’ and a ‘non-living’ thing. Here’s what happened:
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‘Is a chicken alive?’ I asked her
g
‘Yes!’
g
‘What about a cow’
h
‘Yes’
gg
‘A sheep?’
h
‘Yes uncle’
y
‘A frog?’
d
‘Yes munkle!’
j
“Hey, don’t call me munkle. I’m your uncle!’
dd
And now something a little trickier for a 7 year old: ‘What about a carrot’?
jj
Slight delay, but eventually she said: ‘Yes’
dd
‘A cabbage? – Is it alive?’
h
‘Yes’
ff
‘A flower?’
gg
‘Yes’
d
‘A tree?’
h
‘Yes’
d
‘A rock?’
h
And then she paused.
h
‘No’
u
‘The moon?’
h
‘No’
h
‘Rain?’
h
‘Er, No’
j
‘A TV?’
d
(giggles) ‘No!’
k
‘A car?’
g
‘No’
g
‘My laptop?’
h
‘No’
j
‘Your mother?’
d
‘Yes’
u
‘What about me? Am I alive?’
h
‘Yes!’
h
‘How do you know?’
h
She shrugged her shoulders. And that’s the thing. If I ask her why, she just shrugs her shoulders. She doesn’t know why – she just knows. Knows that I, her lovely clever uncle, am a living thing. It’s almost instinctive isn’t it? It’s something she’s too young to articulate and explain – but it’s something hardwired into her little seven year old brain. She’s never been taught at school the differences between living and non-living things. In fact she won’t be taught that living things grow, breathe, reproduce, excrete, move, till she’s at least 11 years old.
h
How does she know then? Or more importantly: what does this tell us?
h
That children are much smarter than we give them credit for?
h
Sure
d
What else does it tell us?
h
Never tell a child that endless money can be had from the little man behind the cashpoint machine?
g
Sure
g
But, what does it really tell us? What does it tell us about the childhood of mankind? The fact that a seven year old knows – deeply, instinctively, within the marrow of its bones – that the twinkle-twinkle little star, is somehow different, to the Baa Baa Black Sheep…
g
These are questions I think about all the time. I can’t help it! My thinking life is so strange; I suppose, to others…but its through asking simple questions, like these…that we learn to see and feel and touch the human condition. Einstein; when he was young, used to imagine what it would be like to ride upon a light beam. Look where it got him! The very edge of Space and Time. I’m not saying I’m Einstein (!) – but what I am saying, is that, within the answers of a 7 year old – to the question of whether a bumble-bee or a rock is alive – lies the mystery of – the earliest stirrings, the birth pains, of our ancestral origin myths. It’s all there. Etched on the tongue of my seven year old niece. And all it took to fish it out was patience, pertinent questions and lots of chocolate.
f
Told you children are wonderful, brilliant creatures. Not babies. Babies are annoying. But seven year olds; on the cusp of self-awareness. They can tell you everything you need to know.
h
You just gotta ask the right questions:
h
‘Is a man alive?
h
‘Yes’
h
‘An angel?’
d
‘Yes’
g
‘Father Christmas and the tooth-fairy?’
g
‘Yes’
f
And there you have it. If you don’t know what I’m talking about – well, you’ve not been asking yourself the right questions!

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