School Snippets: BIG questions from seven-year-olds

I had an interesting discussion with my French Immersion Grade 2s yesterday – an impromptu one that I was not prepared for.

We were looking at the globe and doing a little summative review – remember what continents are? What’s this line around the middle called? Where do we live? Then, one student asked how the Earth happened. Like, how it started, the planet itself.

galactic collision

I tried to explain, in French, using my very limited knowledge of planetary theoretical physics, and it was difficult. One of the students suggested, “Madame, tu peux parler en anglais.” Certain students in this class have a tendency to “forget” to speak French, so I wasn’t setting a good example in switching, but I did it anyway. I gave myself a break: this was the first time I can remember having the attention of all 18 of them at once.

(In this particular very-busy group, the attention issues range from “I might be listening or I might decide to play with my friend’s hair instead” to “I don’t listen unless it’s about hockey or weapons” to “Cannot sit! Must writhe and fiddle with my shoelaces and destroy small items from my desk!” Somehow, I guess, planet creation in outer space trumps these problems.)

If I had known this would come up, I certainly would have got my facts straight ahead of time – like when does gravity kick in on a nascent planet and draw other bodies to it? What size do those floating chunks of matter have to be to get gravity? If it’s the gravity that makes a planet round, what shape is it before that? But anyway, I did my best.

Before long, the question about humans came up – how did we get here? Again, I am not a scholar in this. Good thing these were Grade 2s and not Grade 6s. I was careful to say, not knowing what the children’s religious backgrounds might be, that “science shows”, through fossils and bones and so on, that people have evolved over thousands of years to be how we are… and OMG I can’t believe they’re still listening.

Luckily, we had watched a National Geographic anniversary video that featured not only Jane Goodall in the jungle with the chimps, but also the discovery of a strange skull that seemed to be somewhere between that of an ape and that of a human. (The kids were not likely to forget the image produced by the sculptor who made a model based on that skull, and gave it skin and eyes and everything. It was a freaky-looking dude.) So I could refer to the simian similarities and the kids basically got it.

I enjoyed hearing the questions they came up with: “If the world stopped turning all of a sudden, would some people just have day all the time and some just have night all the time?” and “So, is the world actually 2,011 years old?” and “How come in “Journey to the Center of the Earth” they find a big jewel in the middle?”

Although part of me hoped it wouldn’t, the Bible question did come up. In fact, the child who brought it up (a brainy kid, this one) said “In the Bible, it says that it started with two people, and they had lots and lots of babies, and then everyone in the world came from them, but that’s impossible because that would mean everyone in the entire world was a family.” Yes, it would mean that. I was glad to be speaking English as I carefully chose my words… “Some people do believe that’s how it happened, and some people believe in evolution, the fossils and all that.”


creation of earth by God

The class was drawing to a close as one child asked me, “What do you believe, Madame?” When I said I believe in evolution, he agreed, citing inbreeding as the reason why – like, wouldn’t we be all messed up if we all descended from the same two people? Whoa. I decided not to get facetious and say some would argue we ARE messed up. As he ran to get his lunch, he said, “You know the answer to everything!” That made me grin, even as I denied it categorically. There’s a short-lived illusion for you.

Another kid noted, “We didn’t make our list at all! Why not?” (We were going to try to sort out cities versus countries, a distinction that means almost nothing to these kids, and is very hard to explain.) I said, “Because I thought these were really good questions that were important to talk about.” Oh, if he only knew how great it is to have such an interesting conversation with seven-year-olds – not to mention having their attention for a whole twenty minutes!

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3 thoughts on “School Snippets: BIG questions from seven-year-olds

  1. Bev says:

    That’s fantastic! What a great discussion – and it sounds as though you handled a tricky subject very well. It never hurts kids to be told that an adult DOESN’T in fact know everything about a particular subject. The latest New Scientist has an article about Nine Things in Science We Thought We Were Sure About But Which Turn Out Not to Be Quite the Way We Thought – not the exact title, but the meaning.

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