This happened back in the Spring last semester.
When I went to volunteer in an Intergenerational Computer Center with a group of elementary school kids, I expected to help with a couple computer functionality questions and maybe a couple “how do you spell ___?” inquiries. Looking back, I probably should’ve anticipated the sheer number of questions kids have about everything. And they’re not afraid to ask any of them. A conversation I had with one of them as a result of the endless questions went something like this:
I had been helping a group of students writing poems. One girl was finished and turned around in her seat. Out of the blue she asked, “What’s wrong with your voice?”
At first I was a little confused. I didn’t think I was sick and even though I admittedly did need some water, I didn’t think it was anything noticeable. I replied, “What do you mean?”
I started to get an inkling of what she was talking about, so I tried to play it off as nothing. “Oh, this is how I always talk.”
“Wait. You’re a boy.. right?”
I froze for a second. I had trouble explaining myself to pretty much anyone, including people my age. How could I possibly explain myself to a 3rd grader? I million questions of my own went through my mind in that split second: Was anyone else listening? If the teachers were, what would they say? How would this kid react? Was it going to be a bigger deal than it really needed to be?
I did know one thing for sure – kids are incredibly perceptive. They know when their being lied to, or even if they aren’t being told the whole truth. I decided to just go for it, and hope I made some sort of sense.
“Well, I was born a girl, but inside I’m a boy, so this is how I express myself.”
“Oh, so you want to be a boy?”
“Yup, pretty much.”
She had a bit of a confused/incredulous expression on her face. “Why would you want to be a boy??”
I resisted the urge to insist that I didn’t just want to be a guy – I was a guy, inside, and replied, “Why do you want to be a girl?”
“Um.. so I can grow up and be pretty!!”
I laughed and jokingly flexed my arm. “Well, I want to grow up and be really strong.”
It seemed to make sense to her and the one or two others who were listening in, but that didn’t mean their questions were over. After a brief interrogation about my short haircut and whether or not I’d changed my name they seemed to just accept it and move on. If only the rest of the world could do that too…
I sort of forgot about the conversation until one of the teachers came up to me as the kids were leaving and said, “I just wanted to thank you for answering their questions earlier. I definitely didn’t anticipate them asking them.. and I though you handled it well, very well.. so thank you.”
I have to say, the teacher coming up to me and saying that meant a great deal, probably more than she would know. From my experience, I can ascertain that kids can understand a whole lot more than we give them credit for.
Have you had any experiences with kids asking questions that adults, out of tact or politeness would not ask? Do you think kids should be discouraged from asking such questions or encouraged?