Children were born to ask questions. It is a human imperative that they explore this new world by fingers, eyes, and mouth as infants and toddlers and then use the mouth as the great explorer to ask about everything. Though the seemingly endless “Why?” questions become tiring, they seem easy when the “Is it true?” query comes. Choosing an appropriate response can push us into deep levels of consideration of what is meant by “true.” We want to be honest and not give an answer that misleads or deceives. We want our children to be able to trust what we tell them. How do we think of truth in our adult minds and what does “true” mean to a child?
We live in kind of yes-or-no, black-or-white, literal, factual world. We are accustomed to accept, as true, descriptions and explanations of things in our world which can be verified by physical, material research. A rock is a solid, earthly piece of matter with an analyzable chemical composition. A frog is an amphibious animal which can live and breathe both on land and in water. We are educated to stick to the facts we can verify through scientific methods. Yes, this is one kind of truth.
This intellectual consciousness is not, however, where young children live. They come into life—out of the watery realm of the womb where they float, grow, and dream—often with a gasp, into the world of air-and-light where they learn to breathe the world in and out on their own. We can affectionately picture them as little frogs, transitioning out of one realm into another. Like tiny frogs, they do not immediately stay in the air-and-light dependent world of sensory experience; they return often to the watery, fluid, less distinct, softer consciousness from which they have come. They alternate between the two, gradually coming for longer periods into air-and-light, but always returning to the dreamscape to refresh and renew.
When we patiently observe children, we can see for ourselves this is so. Often they seem to drift off into a consciousness which is “otherwise engaged.” It is as though they slip back into a memory of the time and space that was their home before coming to this earthly land. Through amazing remarks, imaginative play, and their drawings, for example, they show us glimpses of what they recall of their home before birth. In this unseen, factually unknowable world our physical senses cannot perceive, they reconfirm the great truths they learned there are “truer than true.” They bring along these memories as a birth right and are allowed to return there at will for reassurance of goodness and truth as they need. It is from this place they come when they ask us “Is it true?” This is a question asking for reassurance and confirmation that what they have brought from the spiritual world lives here on this earth as well.
That is, if the child has not been starkly awakened with literal, yes-or-no facts directed only to the head and not warmed by the heart. Ours is a time when the term “truth” is bantered, batted, and even bashed around on all sides. Points of view contradict each other with proponents of opposing sides righteously claiming possession of the truth. This is confusing. There are sparkles and glimmers of truth everywhere. It is unlikely, despite claims to the contrary, any individual or group has assembled the pieces into a complete and true picture. This perpetual task of discerning what is true accompanies us for all the days of our lives. With this, young children are just getting started. Their dreamlike memories, their imaginations, and flexibility are the friendly tools they have brought to help them recognize and resonate with the truths streamed down with them from the spiritual world.
Leaping into the fray of what to say, here are a couple of possibilities.
Question: “Is it true that everyone has a mommy and daddy? My friend at school says he has two mommies and no daddy. And another friend has two daddies. And another just lives with her mommy. I live with a mommy and a daddy. Which is right? Which is true?” We can be tempted to go to biology and science to answer. Or we can sociologically describe modern trends in family constellations. Neither will answer the child’s implicit question—What can I believe is truth? Is this world a good place where so many things are different? Is one way right and are others wrong?
If we try to live into the soft, trusting dreaminess of the child, we might try: “Babies wanting to be born look for loving parents who will help them grow and learn. Having loving parents is the most important thing. And who those loving people are can be different. Living in any kind of loving family is good.” This is a true answer.
Question on a lighter note: “My friend says that unicorns aren’t real. I love unicorns! Is that true?”
We can give a literal answer: "Modern research has verified that there are no unicorns. Hence, they are not real.” Is the child asking for facts? Or might the child be asking for reassurance, for us to understand and respect her memory of truths vast and imaginative that trail along with her into life, pictured as a unicorn? Possible answer: “I haven’t yet seen a unicorn myself. But I surely hope someday I will. When one comes to visit you, please tell me about it.”
All these questions about truth are confusing, as has been said. It is asserted we grownups are to lead the children into the reality of earthly life. This is correct in many ways, but the current attitude has a hard edge to it. Leading into earthly reality can mean giving the “true” facts starkly and rapidly so the children toughen up to what lies ahead. This can also rob them of their dreamy, heavenly heritage. These truths we have known before can buoy us in hard times and inspire us to find imaginations for the future. To be given just the facts is disappointing and can also be crushing.
Perhaps it is also upside-down. Perhaps we adults are the ones lost and searching for a source of truth to guide and inspire us. The realities of life have burdened our spirits. We will not abandon our hard-won intellectual understanding and insight into the ways of the world if we let the children lead us. It is a gift in the fullness of human life to allow ourselves to dream and play and imagine in the truths we also once knew—and to go searching for unicorns.
Nancy Blanning has been a Waldorf early childhood educator for nearly 30 years, emphasizing therapeutic and developmental support with young children. She also serves on the WECAN board and is co-author with Laurie Clark on Movement Journeys and Circle Adventures, a therapeutic movement resource book for teachers. For further information on WECAN and its activities, please visit www.waldorfearlychildhood.org. Nancy Blanning is the author of the Forward to the book, Slow Parenting.