As my eldest son starts school this week, I’ve been thinking a lot recently about my own learning journey. He is just starting out on his, whilst mine feels a bit like the limited service the local bus provides our village. What’s more, he has started asking the most interesting questions. Especially about how things are made.
“Mummy, how is bread made?” “Mummy, how do you make a car?” “Mummy, how do you make ice?”
Some of the answers I know. But some, I don’t. It’s easy to make something up for pacification’s sake, but shouldn’t we instead feel inspired to find out the real answer?
“Mummy, why is the sky blue?”
I always thought it was because the sky reflected the sea. Not true. Apparently blue light is scattered further by the molecules in the air than other colours and that is why we see a blue sky.
I was once told that if we could learn 10 new facts every second of our lifetime, that when we died, our brain’s capacity for learning would still only be just over half full. Isn’t that just fascinating?
So why do we seem to mark leaving school by giving up on learning? Clearly there are exceptions such as professional qualifications for accounting, law and medicine, but more often than not, the end of our formal education marks an end to our exploration of the workings of the world around us. Unless you count joining in with Pointless or your local Thursday night pub quiz.
When I was a child, my mum was a stay at home parent and took a number of short courses at the local college: computing, creative writing, dry stone walling. And why not? I hope that these courses served as more than just a day-filler and I’m sure they did. I hope their purpose was to feed a hungry mind.
Children have such fantastically greedy minds. Everything is interesting. Everything asks a question of itself. And children are curious for an answer.
How? What? When? Where? Who? And the unrelenting ‘Why’?
Why is the grass green? How do caterpillar tracks work? Why do cars need petrol? Who decides when Paw Patrol is on? Why are some apples green and some red? Why does the sun go to sleep? What is jelly made of? What makes wheels go round? Where does a tiger live? Why do robins have red bellies? How do fish breathe? What’s the biggest mountain called? What are shadows made of? Who makes swans? Where do guitars come from?
It’s clear from the success of programmes like Planet Earth that our curiosity isn’t necessarily lost when we grow up, perhaps just dimmed by the fact we’re a little distracted by boring stuff like going to work, doing housework and paying bills. All that pesky responsibility. How tiresome.
After the years I spent devoting evenings and weekends studying to qualify as an accountant, my mind was on a diet. But now it’s back, greedier than ever. I’m feeding it with recipes at the moment, and tips on how to prune lavender. Today, I learned that saliva is supposedly a viable alternative to rooting powder. Not that interesting to some, but that doesn’t matter. I’m going to keep learning and who knows, maybe that next question from my curious child, I’ll already have the answer to.