A few weeks ago Clara came running into the office, eyes wide, shouting, "A rainbow! A rainbow, daddy!" She pointed back in the direction of the living room. I kind of halfheartedly answered, "Oh yeah? You saw a rainbow outside?" even though it hadn't been raining. "No," she said. "On the floor!" Intrigued, I followed her to her rainbow, an effect of the light hitting the window just right, prism-like. "Oh wow," I said. "Look what you found!"
Delighted, she sat down on the floor like she was at school - I sat opposite her with the rainbow between us. Teachers are trained to look for "teachable moments," opportunities outside of regular classroom instruction where we can pass on some nuggets of wisdom. I couldn't help but think this was a perfect teachable moment, a chance to talk about light and colors. Instead, I just sat there and watched as she listed the colors she knew and asked me about the colors she didn't. I kept silent as she caused shadows by twiddling her fingers over the effect. Occasionally Kate stepped in front of the rainbow, causing it to disappear.
I could see the gears turning in Clara's head as Kate took the rainbow away and made it appear again. Clara held her hand over the rainbow and saw her shadow, then stood up and headed for the window, still holding her hand out. She waved her hand back and forth in front of the window and saw the shadow across the rainbow. She laughed.
"What did you find?" I asked.
Shyly, "My shadow."
We must have spent ten minutes sitting there before the rainbow faded away - and I didn't say more than ten words. I did what I do when Clara is putting together one of her puzzles: nothing. All I could think was anything I wanted to show her would only stop her from learning something on her own.
There's a lesson in here somewhere, and it's not for the kids. Sometimes the best thing we can do to help our kids learn is to shut the heck up and let the world unfold in front of their eyes.