Monday, November 12, 2012

Small Children and Historical Perspective

I took the children for a short walk downtown on Friday and we walked a slightly different way than usual, so I was pointing out some things K doesn't see regularly.

We walked up the center of Wenceslas Square and talked about the man in the statue, Svatý Václav (the square is named after him). I explained that he was a kníže (prince or duke, an independent ruler but less than a king) who lived a long time ago, ruled over this country and people now remember him as a protector (patron saint).

K wanted to know where he lived. I considered the fact that I don't technically know anything except that he died in Stará Boleslav, but went with the most likely answer, that he moved around some but was probably based in Prague.

Then she wanted to know why he is riding a horse. I said because that's how he got around, because before people had cars they traveled from place to place on horses, and that they didn't have cars at that time because he lived over a thousand years ago.

Then she wanted to know if he is still alive and was disappointed when I said no, because she wanted to meet him. I stressed that he lived one - thousand - years - ago, which is a very long time.

As we talked we passed by the memorial for Jan Palach (right in front of the statue) and she pointed out the flowers laid out, asking if that was for someone who died. I said yes, that is for a person called Jan Palach, he also died, which was very sad but happened a long time ago. K nodded her acceptance.

As that last sentence left my mouth, I realized that for my daughter, 935 and 1969 are essentially the same era. As is 2005. Anything before 2007, the year she was born, is ancient history and impossibly long ago. Children have no sense of historical perspective!

We have had many discussions lately about if certain people are alive or not (historical figures mainly) and how people used to do things before they had __. For instance, we just finished reading Little House in the Big Woods, which involves both concepts.

K finds the idea that people haven't always had access to the things we have now to be mind-boggling. I can understand that, because as a child I had the same problem. The difference between 1979 and 2007, however, is that I couldn't imagine a world without refrigerators. She can't imagine a world without cell phones. She sees a world with no DVDs to be just as distant as a world without cars.

Today, this line of thought led her to ask me, "Before people had bags, did they have to carry their snacks in a box?" I said bags have been around for a very long time, at least as long as boxes.

She has also asked me things like,

"Did Dedo [grandfather] have a mommy? Oh, I know, Babka [grandmother]."
"He did have a mommy, but it wasn't your Babka, it was Apo's Babka."
"Oh! Have I met her?"
"No, you never met her, and neither did I, because she died when Apo was very young."
"Because she was born a very long time ago."
"When you were a little girl?"
(mildly offended) "No, your great-grandmother was not born when I was a little girl. It was much longer ago than that."

I know these things are really hard to grasp when you have no frame of reference and your concept of a "lifetime" is five years. I really enjoy watching as K grapples with ideas bigger than she is, though, and I love the conversations you can have with a nearly five year old.

Even if she does apparently think I was born in 1907.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, time is one of the hardest concepts for our little ones to wrap their heads around! I remember even when I was 20, talking to a 40 year old, he said to me '20 years is your whole life, but for me that's just a period of time'. Now, at almost 40 myself, I know what he meant. It's one of those things you really have to experience as it's so hard to imagine.

    As my son loves cars, we've talked a lot about how cars were invented and what the first ones looked like. We have books with clear pictures of them, which I think really helps him to understand.



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