We went out for dinner last night for my oldest son’s birthday. Then, we drove around to look at Christmas lights. As we drove around, our youngest son (4 years old) started talking about the north pole and whether or not we could drive there. Then, he started talking about polar bears because “they wiv at the north pole”.
Seizing the opportunity to teach a little science I asked, “Why do you think polar bears are white?” He answered, “Because of the snow and it’s cold.” Our oldest son (just turned 7) interrupted to explain that the white helps to camouflage the bears. While I really wanted to make the 7 year old explain that word he appeared to use correctly, I wanted to keep pressing the 4 year old. So I asked him, “Why do you think it is good for polar bears to be white with snow?” He replied, “So they can hide from pwediters!” (Someone’s been watching Wild Kratts). While the ability to hide from danger is a reasonable idea (especially for a 4 year old), I wanted to see if I could get him to think about how blending in might help the polar bear in it’s predation.
I asked him several questions trying to guide him that direction, but it just wasn’t happening. He kept coming back to the notion that the polar bears have to hide from predators. He was really latched onto his prior knowledge and I was really struggling to get him moving in the new direction. Challenge accepted my son, challenge accepted.
After several attempts at different lines of questioning, I finally asked something like the following sequence that seemed to be a bit more successful:
Me: What do polar bears eat?
Me: How do they eat the seawls?
Him: With their teeph and the Cwaws!
Me: How do you think being white helps the polar bears get seals?
Him: So that they don’t get eaten (By the seals).
Me: How does being white help the polar bears sneak up on the seals?
Him: So they can hide from them and then eat them!
Do I think he’s completely internalized the notion that camouflage aids both predators and prey? Nah. Is he better off being asked questions instead of told answers? Definitely.