Note: The entries in this series are adapted from a lectures I’ve been giving to my Apps101 course. It will also form the basis for a presentation that I plan to give at a conference next month. If you have any thoughts, I would love to hear them.
Every Sunday, my wife and I read stories to small children. It started as one of those strange opportunities that life sometimes presents and has grown to become one of the highlights of my week. There is something wonderful about kids. I’m not sure if it’s the innocence, the wide-eyed wonder, or the capacity for faith; but when a child looks at you, it’s possible to believe that a better world might just be possible.
Not to whitewash the whole thing, though. For all of their wonderful qualities, small children can also be difficult. Those wide-eyed moments of innocence are easily shattered. Small children scream, they cry, they tantrum; they hit, bite, claw, push, and shove. They’re very good at taunting, alienating, and belittling others.
Which is to say, small children are much like adults, except … smaller. They have many of the same capacities for good and evil, creativity and destruction, kindness and cruelty. The seeds of the men and women they will become are all present, and you can see interests and passions already at work.
Small children are also notoriously distractible. They’ll move between games, toys, playmates , and activities. They’ll build, break, and bless. You’ll see moments of heartbreaking tenderness, comic relief, and dangerous volatility. A single play session can hold all of the drama and frivolity of a Shakespearean play.
There is one thing, however, which never fails to hold the children’s attention: story time. When the book is opened and the story announced, the effect is magical. The fussing screams quiet, the rowdy sit still, and the distractible engage. An entire room of two and three year olds will sit in a circle, and raptly listen while read to.
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