Tuesday, January 10, 2006

learn the need

It's easy to tell when a baby's interested in something: their eyes fix on the object of their desire, they work their arms and legs excitedly, and their breathing speeds up. Once, as my panting, squirming baby lunged for the breast, a friend remarked that she'd be afraid to let a creature who looked like that near her tender morsels. I could only agree. Newborns are vicious about their desires: they have no mercy, and will do their best to swallow the breast whole. When they combine this urgency with spluttering at a too-fast milk flow, it's like watching really good improv - hourly. Luckily for me, breastfeeding has been a fairly comfortable affair thus far, so my baby's aggressive love affair with my chest is a source of amusement, rather than anxiety.

As he's grown, our baby has come to own more of his body, as he learns to command his parts to do his bidding. He can now grab things, more or less deliberately, and has learned that sometimes he can make his hands hold things and to move them about. With this, we enter the era of toys. He's still pretty little, so there are very few things that he can hold on to reliably, but our little man has concieved a grand passion for a floppy yellow duck provided by the ever-thoughtful Auntie Jo, who seems to have a gift for giving my boys excellent dolls. The duck has a range of textures, from the fuzzy hair to the knobbly hands, and it has introduced our baby to a new idea: open mouth, insert toy.

Yup, the baby now literally salivates over the idea of shoving things in his mouth. If he holds it, he tries to navigate a thing's path to his mouth, where he will gnaw furiously and lovingly on the object. And all in the name of learning.

For this newly fledged person, learning is a full body affair, pursued relentlessly and at every opportunity. He mimicks my expressions, observes my interactions with others, experiments with sounds, muscle, texture and taste. Babies are keen social observers, enthusiastic scientists (hmm - maybe this time that gravity thing won't work! Oh.) and delighted artists (ooh - paint is gooey...) But this isn't so much a matter of pleasure as it is one of need, and it's a need I see in our baby's panting, his arms and legs as he struggles, yes really struggles, to manipulate himself into the path of knowledge. It's almost alarming. And then it's sad.

Where did my need, my physical, deep seated need for learning leave me? Was it sometime in first grade, when my dyslexia divorced me from the arcane mathematics being practiced on the blackboard? Or was the drift from this desire simpler and more widely spread? I do wonder if traditional schooling's approach teaches kids to learn in order to pass the test, rather than to learn in order to feed their intellectual fires. We know - I know - that kids learn in a wide variety of ways, at different paces. Why should they learn the same subject, at the same time?

Watching my baby, I envy him this opportunity. And I wonder if I can learn from him, perhaps, and recapture a bit of his passion for my own studies. Or at least preserve it for his older brother. Should I be reading more of Mr. Holt?

1 comment:

jgfellow said...

I've always wondered. When the baby sticks your hand in his mouth and slobbers all over it, is that a kiss? Or just the baby's way of making sure that, should things get that desperate, daddy is edible?