Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Explaining Things to Children

I love getting questions from my kids.  Right now, they're 7 and 9. Answering their questions forces me to examine my assumptions and put the answer into a form that they can understand.

What's a Satellite?

Recently, the family was in the car headed down the highway.  We passed a news van headed the other way, and my youngest asked me what the stuff on top of the van was.  Absently I answered "Oh - that's the satellite dish". The followup question got me thinking: "What's a satellite".

Wow - how do I explain to a 7 year old that what a satellite.  The first things that come to mind are Geostationary orbits, a treatise on Kelperian Elements, or a diatribe on China's space program. None of this would work with my daughter.  Maybe you have some savant child that can calculate orbital trajectories in his or her gifted little head, but I was not that child and neither is my youngest.

Common Ground

My daughter is vaguely aware of my amateur radio work. She has seen the antenna I built, and has a high level understanding that I'm able to talk to people with a radio and an antenna.  After confirming that she remembered the antenna, I had to make sure that she new what space was.  Wow - that's a big subject (pun intended). "You know we live on a planet, right? And there's this black stuff up there called space?" Fortunately she nodded yes.  Phew.  I didn't have to back to fundamentals on that one.

Now it was pretty easy: "Honey, a satellite is an antennae that is up in space." So far so good.  Time to press my luck.  "The picture from the new reporter's camera goes from the big dish on top of the van to the satellite (that's way up there in space) then goes back down to the news station so we can see it on our TV."  I skipped over a lot of concepts that I was just dying to go into:

Ok, I was really getting off the beaten path with that last one.  Sheesh.  She kind of glazed over with the whole news station connection, but maybe I've planted a seed that will grown into a career as a satellite engineer.  Hey, a dad can hope, right?  The much more likely scenario is that she will bring up this conversation a year from now like it happened yesterday and I'll be left scratching my head wondering when we talked about satellites (and looking up old person homes that specialize in dimensia cases).

Keep It Simple

Trying to explain things that  I take for granted helps breath new life into things for me.  It's a fresh perspective to look at something like a satellite with a child's wonder.   Who knows - maybe she'll keep me from getting too jaded.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Rich,

    I can't find any contact info in the site so forgive me for using the comment section. I'm Algen, I work with engineering website EEWeb.com and would love to do an exchange of website links (with your website: ) and feature you as a site of the day on EEWeb (you can see an example here http://www.eeweb.com/websites/sparkle-labs/). Is this of interest to you?

    Hope to hear from you soon.


    Algen Dela Cruz