The Value of Giving Gifts...
To Young Children

To be perfectly honest with you, I don't understand all that constitutes my relationship with my youngest two grandchildren, Jack and Owen. I love my three adult children and my adult granddaughter. I have given them both love and gifts stretching over several decades, but it is different with the two boys who are 6 and 4. My relationship haunts me in a positive manner. Trust me. I have attempted to understand more fully our relationship.

Obviously, having danced with death twice in the past decade, I realize that I am mortal. I knew that prior to doing either dance. However, I knew that I was not immortal in my head but not in my gut. However, after doing the dances, I know that I have but a limited amount of time left to me. I make every effort to use that time wisely, which includes spending time with Jack and Owen.

Another part of my relationship with the two boys, which I also understand, deals with my wish that I could remember my grandfathers who played with me. They enjoyed their time with me. However, they both died before I was 5. Therefore, I am haunted with my wish to remember them. These two photos are all that I have to remember the times they shared with me.  

Grandfather Oakford   Grandfather Campbell

Description: We are off for a walk

Additionally, much of my time playing with Jack and Owen involves teaching them things. They know more about paintings, sculptures, and fossils than a large chunk of the adult world. Interestingly, my teaching was started by their question why.

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Finally, I know about how I mistakenly felt when my parents moved from Pennsauken, NJ, to Mt. Lebanon, PA when I finished 5th grade. Pennsauken was a middleclass community where I was an above average student. However, Mt. Lebanon was the wealthiest community in Western Pennsylvania and the 19th best school system in the country. The result of moving to Mt. Lebanon created two very negative feelings within me.

I felt poor and dumb. It took me a long time to figure out that I made a mistaken analysis of myself. I don't want Jack or Owen to make that same type of mistake. Interestingly, that also explains why I am still teaching at the college level nearly a decade after most people retire. Most of those students do not see themselves as capable as they are.

Therefore, these are some of the reasons why I am motivated to spend time with Jack and Owen. We talk about all sorts of topics that range from art history, fossils, and collecting coins. What is interesting is that they are eager to learn. Jack and Owen's favorite word is why.  I will cultivate that drive to learn and help them prepare themselves for the real world.

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El Greco's View of Toledo

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Folder for Jefferson nickels

However, this process helping those two boys understand things occurs at two critically important levels. The first level is just the fun and enjoyment that we share together. In the past couple years, I have given them fossils, paintings, and coins on birthdays and Christmas. I have given them gifts that I picked up for them while overseas. It is fun to talk to them about all their gifts. When talking about the gifts, I can see in their eyes their excitement. They question, laugh, and enjoy the experience of knowing why.

The second level has to do with something that they or I can't see. We cannot see what is happening within their brains. Researchers know that we are born with about 100-billion neurons. The learning process involves connecting the neurons, which begins almost immediately after birth.  Interestingly, by the age of three, a hundred trillion connections have been made. This illustration shows the connections in the first two years.

Description: Results from birth to two years

Results from birth to two years

Researchers have found that during the first three years a child makes 700 neural connections per second. That is amazing on the one hand. On the other hand, it should scare us to get more involved more quickly with young children.  They have also found that parents or caretakers need to spend time talking with infants and young children. The talking develops the child's ability to connect the neurons. On average, college-educated parents spoke 2,153-words per hour to a child as opposed to less educated parents on welfare who speak 616-words per hour. If the child's brain doesn't connect the neurons at an early age, the child will grow up far behind where he or she could have been intellectually.

While Jack, Owen, and I enjoy the time we spend together learning, laughing, and asking why, imagine the benefits that will be obvious in both the boys as they grow up with brains with interconnected neurons.

Here are two interesting examples of how Jack and Owen's neurons got interconnected. One example occurred while the three of us were discussing the painting, Hannibal Crossing the Alps by William Turner. I told them that Hannibal took 40-elephants from Africa to Spain. Hannibal then travelled to France and had to cross several rivers, one of which was the Rhône before entering Italy and the Alps. Jack's response to my mentioning the Rhône was that Vincent van Gogh painted Starry Night over the Rhône. He was able to make that comparison due to the interconnection of his neurons. Jack was not yet five when he made that observation.

Description: Starry Night over the Rhone

Starry Night over the Rhône

During that same art history lesson, Owen, who was not yet three, responded to my comment about imagine taking elephants over all the snow and ice of the Alps. He went and got a Hot Wheel from their collection. He then sat down and said that Hannibal should have used cars rather than elephants as he is showing us going over the Alps.

Description: Owen

Give children, especially very young children, gifts. Give them things but more importantly give them your presence. Teach them about anything. That is a priceless gift. They will enjoy that experience.  However, their brains are developing at that very young age. That gift will remain with them for life.

This is an extremely interesting video at the end of my essay Talk to an Infant's Brain.

Owen's Christmas Gifts thumbnail Owen's Christmas Gifts From Around the World

Jack's Christmas Gifts thumbnail Jack's Christmas Gifts From Around the World

Darwin, Chagall, and Lindbergh's Gifts thumbnail Darwin, Chagall, and Lindbergh's Gifts For Jack on His Fifth Birthday

Darwin, van Gogh, and Lindbergh's Gifts thumbnail Darwin, van Gogh, and Lindbergh's Gifts For Owen on His Third Birthday

Jack's Birthday Letters thumbnail Jack's Birthday Letters From Charles Darwin, El Greco, and Thomas Jefferson

Owen's Birthday Letters thumbnail Owen's Birthday Letters From Charles Darwin, Vincent van Gogh, and Thomas Jefferson

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