Becoming a (foster) parent after having been a teacher has been an eye opening experience and a bit of a challenge. As a teacher, I only had my students for less than a year of their life. And when I taught the same grade for multiple years, I saw the same slice of life over and over again.
Not so with parenting. We got our foster daughter at 19 months. We now have her at 26 months, and we could very well end up with her for her 3rd birthday, 4th birthday, and beyond. In the nearly 7 months that she’s been with us, I’ve seen tremendous growth and development. It’s fascinating, and I love it! Most notably, she went from a vocabulary of 1-2 words when she arrived to showing off new words on a daily basis. She’s even starting to experiment with two-word phrases, and last weekend she said her own name for the first time ever. I was in heaven.
The position I find myself in now is: how much should I go out of my way to “teach” her? And how much can I just let her pick up by living with us?
Case in point: colors. Over the past month or two she has developed a conception of colors as an attribute of things. My husband and I figured it out because she randomly started calling blue things blue. I had already used colors words regularly in conversation, but I definitely ramped up their use after that. The odd effect is that now she doesn’t say blue as much. Instead, everything is purple.
I think it’s partially because she prefers purple to blue, and partially because colors are freakin’ complicated! I’m telling her to pull from a list of 6 words (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple) to describe the thousands (millions?) of shades of color she sees in the world. How confusing must that be for her?
“Yes, I know this pile of crayons all looks like completely different colors, but trust me that all of these are green.”
I don’t agonize over this or anything, but I do wonder if I should be doing more to “teach” her colors, or if I can just continue using color words when I talk and assume she’ll pick up on it over time. If I do start over thinking it, I stop and ask myself, “What are the chances she’s going to go off to college at age 18 without knowing her colors?” Yeah, that sounds ridiculous.
I feel that regardless of what I do, she is going to eventually know her colors. So then I wonder, does it even matter which route I go? Is there some benefit to actively working on teaching her color words? How does one go about actively teaching color words to a toddler anyway, especially one who can lose interest in a topic almost as soon as we’ve engaged in it?
If I don’t actively teach her color words, is there some benefit to her putting it together herself as she hears the words spoken around her? I mean, really, think about it. She’s putting together the English language on her own in her brain. I’m not giving her lessons. If her brain can do something as amazing as that, I think it can eventually sort out colors.
I know the situation would be much worse if my husband and I didn’t engage with her, play with her, read to her, and talk to her as much as we do. Sadly, we have no idea how much of this attention she was getting before we got her. We often wonder if her speech delays are related to not being talked to enough from birth.
I have a feeling this tension of wanting to teach her new things versus letting her learn from experience is going to be around from now on. My gut is leaning towards experience at the moment, though I’m learning it can be quite messy.
Today, for example, I took her out to blow bubbles. Her first attempts at doing it prior to today were pretty miserable, but today she was able to blow bubbles about 60-70% of the time. The other 30-40% she tended to blow too hard or (gross as this is) touch the bubble wand to her mouth and break the film. The thing that I enjoyed the most was her determination to try again and again and again despite multiple, and frequent, failures.
It’s also interesting how oblivious she was to the mess she was making. Nearly every time she pulled the bubble wand out of the container, a good amount of solution splashed out with it. It was splashed all over her hands, clothes, and legs, as well as all over my hands, and yet she was engrossed in blowing bubbles for nearly 30 minutes. I, on the other hand, wanted to go wash up after about 2 minutes.
With the exception of telling her she shouldn’t touch the wand to her mouth, I kept my own mouth shut about technique. The teacher in me had a lot of tips and pointers she could use, but instead of sharing them, I let her figure it out on her own and guess what, she had fun “learning” for 30 minutes. I’m pretty happy with that.