Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Afternoon chats with my niece

I took a very important phone call today. It was my four year old niece calling. She needed to fill me in on her day. She was watching her older brother (aged 6) paint a pirate ship. Clearly, there was a limit to her powers of concentration and she decided to call her Aunty instead.

The last time we spoke on the phone, I noticed that my facilitator's habit of asking good open questions led nowhere when it came to engaging in conversation with a four year old. My engaging, excellent questions were met with discombobulated silence. In a few short weeks, I can hear how her language skills and comprehension have advanced. Or maybe she was just in a chatty mood.

"Did you have a nice Christmas?"she asked me and followed up with an open question for me: "What did you get for Christmas?" I told her about a few things and she latched onto the perfume set which had come from her whole family. 

"I got some perfume too!" she exclaimed.

"Wow! That's great. You must smell very nice. What sort of perfume did you get?" I enquired.

"It's special kids' perfume. It's stuff I can put on myself!" 

I was struggling to imagine what this might be and saw fleeting iamges of her dousing herself and the house with some sickening aroma.

"What does it smell like?" I asked?

"It smells like mashed potato and carrots! It's lovely!"

I held my laughter wondering what this perfume could possibly be. Then I pictured the advertising campaign. There'd be a handsome man, sniffing the ear of a woman. He'd be in raptures as he inhaled the smells of mashed vegetables. The woman would morph into his mother...It was time to change the subject, but she beat me to it by telling me that she and her brother had collected all the cards they needed to complete a special book of animals and now they could hear all the sounds the animals make. The cards that Grandma had sent had helped them complete their collection. It was a significant achievement.

"Do you know what I saw in the garden today?" I asked.

"No." That's where a closed question will get you.

"It was a hare."


"Do you know what a hare is?"

"A kind of a rabbit?"

"Yes. Sort of. It's a big rabbit and its ears stand straight up."

"What was he doing?"

"Just sitting in the garden eating some grass and looking at me."

"Did you pick him up?"

"No! He was too big. I thought he was a small wallaby when I first saw him."

"Was he a wallaby-rabbit?"

"No! He was a hare, but he looked like a wallaby - that's how big he was."

"How big?"

"As big as a small wallaby."


Then came this gorgeous question: "Was he bigger than something small?"

I thought about the answer for a while.

"Yes. He was bigger than something small."
"Okay. Bye!"

She's off to find out what sound a hare makes. I'll look forward to our next conversation.

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