I was talking with a friend the other day as she was making a CD of music for another friend’s child, and it occurred to me that perhaps we go about introducing children into the world in the wrong way in the United States. I have shopped many times for friends’ children in the past, and compared with what was available in my own childhood, everything that I found seemed on a much lower level. I had a chemistry set from a very young age, with real chemicals in it, and many other books, games and toys like microscopes even as a small child. And with what I know about neuroscience and neurological development, I realized yesterday that children go through a critical period in brain development in the first three years of life, and yet we are deliberately restricting our children’s exposure to language, music, and art.
The concept of treating children differently is a rather new idea; although certainly in earlier times there were toys and objects like rattles specifically designed for children, in the Middle Ages through the Enlightenment, children were treated as small adults. They ate what adults ate, wore what adults wore, and were exposed to the same art, music, and literature that adults enjoyed. And I wonder now whether the television, books, music and games devised specifically for children these days are not in some way restricting the abilities of their brains to develop.
So, if you are one of those parents inclined to try something new, I would urge you to try something old–whatever your reading fare is (as long as it’s appropriate), try sharing it with your child: The Wall Street Journal, Jane Austen, or Agatha Christie. Rather than listening for the gazillionth time to some annoyingly repetitious children’s song (I’m afraid of getting an earworm if I try to think of one in particular), share your love of Dufay or Debussy with them. And while a first-person shooter video game may not be ideal for a child, perhaps dusting off an old board game, or getting one such as Apples to Apples might encourage a little creative thought (and with the odd way that some children think, will certainly lead to hilarity). In any case, introducing children to classical music, great art, and great literature can’t be all bad.