A young child’s thoughts about the world are not based on logic and fact. When a child under four or five is asked about the sun, he may explain that a man lit a match and threw it up in the sky, and that’s how the sun got there. Young children often believe that humans created the oceans, trees, space, mountains, and other natural phenomena. A child will ask, “Why did they make that mountain so high? Why did they put Switzerland so far away?” After a snowstorm, one child said, “I guess the people ran out of snowflakes.”
Young children assume that inanimate objects have the same motives, intentions, and feelings a child has. One boy looked in his bucket after a downpour and said, “Guess what the rain did. It gave me water. Wasn’t that nice?” Another child, trying his bike for the first time in several months, declared, “Look, my bike got smaller!” Sometimes a child will blame an object for a mishap: “That chair bumped into me!” And when a child misses a ball during a game of catch, he may not feel badly about his own abilities: “That ball started flying crooked.”
To a young child, many objects are alive, a pencil because it writes, a cloud because it moves. Picture books and fairy tales enchant him because they mirror his world by presenting talking objects and animals, and trees that walk and sing.
To find out what your child thinks about nature and the objects around him, listen to his explanations of events, and ask, “How do you think the stars got there? Why do you think worms crawl?” When he asks you a question, ask for his thoughts before you answer. You’ll be delighted with his responses and fascinated by the insights you get into his thinking. Keep asking and noticing how his answers change as he grows older.
You may be tempted to correct your child when he gives you answers that are clearly not factual. Sometimes it’s best to just accept what he says, although at other times you’ll want to offer as much information as you think he can understand. But don’t be surprised if he listens and then sticks to his own thoughts and beliefs. This is natural behavior for children under five or six years old, who generally stick to their own ideas about the world.