The Eyes of a Child

by Flemming Funch, 5 December 1994.

I was just yesterday shopping in a bookstore with my kids. They usually sit down by a little table with little chairs and pull a stack of books out of the shelves for kids and go through them, and I usually go to the shelves with my kind of grown-up book. And I just check once in a while that there is still laughter and weird sounds coming over from the kids table, but otherwise I don't think about it before I found what I wanted and I am ready to leave.

This time I sat down on one of the little chairs with them and looked at some of the books there. Mainly my eyes fell on some of the educational books, about geography and history and how different things work.

And it dawned on me, or I got re-affirmed, how children's books often explain things so much better than grown-up books. They explain everything in regular words, they make pictures that actually show how things work, they give everyday examples. They sometimes get real creative and include materials made of different media, or including things one can pull out and touch and interact with. A geography book includes rocks from different regions and coins from different countries. The history book has pictures of how people looked and how they lived in all the different time periods. A book on buildings has a model you can cut out of the paper and assemble.

I realized that I would often learn things much more simply, directly and truthfully by reading a book for kids than "my" kind of books which are mostly about abstract ideas.

I am not saying that children's education is anywhere near perfect. It isn't, there are many problems with the way kids are taught. But there is something to say for the simplicity that is brought in to convey something to a kid.

Between grown-ups we've gotten used to exchanging abstract ideas without attaching them to much else than other ideas. We might not always notice if we really have a clue what we are talking about. A kid is not so easy to fool. For a kid you need to provide evidence, something one can perceive and understand in everyday terms.

Ideas are really best communicated if they are put in simple terms, if they are related to something one already is very familiar with, if they are presented in multiple media at the same time, in words, drawings, colors, sound and touch. That goes for all of us, not just for kids.

To really understand something requires a whole experience, of sight, sound, feeling, and words. It requires simplicity. It requires a personal relation to what is being examined.

The kids knew that all along, of course.

- Flemming