|Image courtesy of Clipart Kid|
Thus, you need to keep your eyes open for teachable moments. They come along with a great deal of regularity, however, so you are not left wanting for opportunities to teach. Just last night, for example, the boys and I had a pretty active conversation regarding the way that we get our food, the importance of taking care of our sources of food, and the importance of taking care of the environment.
My youngest was really upset that I was cutting up carrots for a salad. He was most displeased that I was making the carrot's 'dead'. This turned into a child-lead conversation where we talked about how everything that is alive feeds on something else that was once alive. When the kids started expressing sadness that our food sources had to feel pain and die, the conversation moved into a discussion about how it is best for us to make sure our food sources suffer as little as possible in their lives and in their eventual deaths. At which point my eldest asked about the Earth and why it was important to take care of the Earth.
By the end of the conversation, it was clear that the boys understood that empathy is a good thing; compassion and responsibility for their actions are vital; and that we are as dependent upon life around us for our survival as our pet fish Ghost is upon us for his survival. (This then turned into a discussion of what sort of new pet we should get when Ghost eventually dies. I had some challenges getting them to understand that we could not have a pet shark. The boy's reasoning was first that sharks are cool and, second, if we take care of the endangered fish, it will be safe and not become extinct. They did lament that it was unfortunate that they couldn't have a pet dinosaur.)
Taking that moment when the kids realize that everyday things have consequences and expanding their awareness to how they can be more fully engaged in the world, along with teaching them more about the traits that we are working to cultivate within them (and ourselves) is sometimes easier than others. Engaging them at their level and using evidence that is fairly concrete (or otherwise appropriate to grade level and their maturity) makes it easier for them to grasp difficult concepts. And, sometimes, kids can surprise you. When my eldest came out with that logical leap to taking care of the Earth and the environment is important, it was completely unprompted. And, you can take those moments and encourage them to explore the ideas. This often leads to them drawing conclusions that are along the lines of what you are teaching them if you make a point of presenting as much information as they can understand and helping them see what the logical answers to the implied questions are.