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Teach Your Child to Look at Clouds. Um — What?

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Read Time: 2 minutes

To be a kid today means to grow up in a culture constantly underestimating your creativity, resilience, gumption, and especially: your curiosity.

The hallmark of our era is the mistaken assumption that all kids are dullards who would otherwise do and notice NOTHING, if adults weren’t there busily pointing things out every step of the way.

Didactic nattering for the gold!

Hence the term, “Teachable Moment.” As if kids don’t learn anything unless we are right there, making sure they squeeze every last educational drop from any everyday activity. If a kid falls in the forest, did they really learn anything?

Not if we didn’t ask them to reflect upon the experience, and maybe write a paragraph or two.

So: in my email today (I get a lot of wild emails) some educational company sent a list of instructions — INSTRUCTIONS — on how to get kids interested in the outdoors. Naturally, this requires all sorts of activities that we must prepare for them. The most preposterous?

You’ll need:

This one, below, about HOW TO GET KIDS TO LOOK AT THE CLOUDS. Here is an exact quote, including the grammar mistakes:

“Equipment required: Green space

“Have them lay down with them [sic] and look up at the sky and encourage them to say what they can see “hidden” [in the] clouds, pointing out any shapes and images that their mind may create. Also ask them to mention any changes to the clouds as they move along.

Remember: Kids have zero interests on their own.

I’m trying to put my finger on why it seems so insulting, infantalizing, and — I wish there was a word — inert-ing. As in assuming a child is inert and must be jolted into any kind of action.

“This is a free activity that can be great for harvesting creativity and even developing their story-telling skills. All you need is green space to enjoy this activity.” 

All you REALLY need to enjoy this activity is someone to hunt down the person who thinks it is MORE fun to look at clouds when an adult is asking you to pay attention and chronicle “any changes to the clouds as they move along.”

Turning childhood into one, long, adult-led educational exercise — that’s what we are expected to do, as parents. Meanwhile, kids are expected not to look at clouds or use their imaginations until we tell them they must. Come on, honey! Look up, already! Time to harvest your creativity! – L.


  1. JJenn Martinez says:

    Children have the most curious eyes.
    For some reason I’ve always found Pokemon in the clouds!

  2. MMark says:

    As usual Lenore: welcome wit; incisive observations. The rules we had as kids back in Hopatcong — 60s and 70s — were, as I recollect, mainly to protect other people, property from mischievous kids. Our 9:30 curfew for minors, for example. NOT as protection FOR kids. We had the added incentive of learning to predict weather from clouds for our outdoor activities. And we needed no one to tell us one of the most wondrous sights was a starry, starry night. Like we got in Hopatcong. Not sadly, with the light and particulate pollution in NYC. Ironically, I was taking pictures on one of my walks recently when a very young woman asked me friendly what I was taking picture of. I replied: “The clouds.” We get some magnificent formations, and that was a special day. I wondered what else to tell her. Nothing popped to mind. She said, “Oh,” smiled as she looked up, around herself. One thing I believe you’ve underscored as a kid initiative-killer is assigning homework that the kids can’t do: that’s expected to be done primarily by parents. Wretched to me. Heartbreaking in further disadvantaging kids from impoverished, broken homes. Or whose parents don’t have the education I benefited from

  3. RRae Pica says:

    ARGH! I *loved* finding creatures in the clouds when I was a kid…and there was not an adult in sight! It’s still one of my favorite activities to recommend for children — to inspire curiosity and creativity and to offer them much-needed downtime. But I never considered writing detailed instructions for it! Oy.

  4. CCary says:

    I’m sitting at my desk now, looking out the window. There are some spectacular cumulus clouds in my field of view. If only I had a green space so I could really look at them.

  5. SSteve Boese says:

    Kids are the ultimate scientists. They will test and test and again test their parents to determine whether the same stimulus will generate the same response.

    Our job as parents is to create safe spaces for them to grow into the people they are meant to be long after we’re gone.