If you watched TV back in the 50s and 60s, you might remember Art Linkletter’s popular show, ‘House Party.’ which featured the segment, ‘Kids Say The Darndest Things.’ During the segment, Art would interview children, asking them questions about various topics. Their answers were invariably quite funny.
I teach karate, and I have the pleasure of teaching four and five year olds. I have to agree with Art, kids do say the darndest things.
One of the things students learn in karate, is breakfalls…sommersaults, etc. The objective is to teach them how to fall so that they don’t hurt themselves. To make it more fun for the younger students, we often take two kicking pads and space them apart on tumbling mats. We tell the kids that these pads are actually a hippopotamus and a crocodile. We tell them that they must roll between the hippo and the croc without touching them, because if they touch them, the hippo and croc will nibble off their toes and they will have to do five pushups to get their toes back.
When I mention hippopotamus and crocodile, the kids usually listen quite attentively and participate with extra zeal.
On one occasion, I described in great detail what the kids were to do. I really built it up to get their attention. I told them that we hadn’t fed the hippo and the croc all day, and therefore, they were really hungry and so the kids needed to be extra careful when doing their rolls. Then I asked if anyone had any questions.
Five year old Amy put up her hand. “Sensei Fred,” she began tentatively.
“Yes Amy,” I replied, thinking that she was about to ask about the proper way to do a breakfall or perhaps what she should do after completing her turn.
Then Amy finished her question. “Wouldn’t it have made more sense to feed the hippopotamus and crocodile before we got here?”
For a moment there was dead silence in the dojo. Then the parents, who were sitting quietly at the back, burst into laughter. I don’t quite recall how I replied to Amy’s question or if I replied at all. I think I was too busy laughing with the parents to be able to formulate a coherent response.
On another occasion, a student was so convinced the hippo and croc were real, he refused to do any breakfalls.
These two incidents reminded me how literally kids take things and how things that seem insignificant to adults are huge to children. Because their little minds and imaginations are so extraoridinarily vulnerable and impressionable, the words we use to speak to them are extremely important.