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Asking questions to kids can open the heart and the mind

March 26, 2004|by LISA TEDRICK PREJEAN

"What do you think a perfect world would look like?"

When I asked my 5-year-old this question, she gave me a blank stare.

I was reading about UNICEF's annual greeting card contest for kids. The theme this year is "Picture a perfect world." The organization is looking for illustrations drawn by children ages 13 and younger.

Designs by two grand-prize winners will be reprinted as cards and sold during the 2004 holiday season.

With the sale of one pack of greeting cards, UNICEF - the United Nations Children's Fund - can provide enough supplies to vaccinate 22 children against polio, or 42 children against measles, according to the organization's Web site, www.unicefusa.org/cards.

I was curious what my daughter would draw if she entered a contest like this, so I tried again.

"Think of the best kind of world - one where you would like to live."

She thought a minute, scribbled a tad more on her notepad, then replied, "It would have me, my mommy, my daddy and my brother."

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"Having your family would make it perfect?"

She nodded.

"What are some other things you'd want in a perfect world?"

Friends all the time.

"What does a friend do?"

They meet and they be nice to each other.

"How can you be nice to a friend?"

She rattled off some ideas pretty quickly: You can have them over for dinner and let them pick which Kool-Aid flavor you're going to make. You can let them go first in the sandbox. And you can let them go first on the swing.

I'd say her perfect world contains love, security, generosity, camaraderie and peace.

Sounds good to me.

When I asked my 9-year-old to picture his perfect world, the response was quite different.

Everything would be made of Bionicle pieces, he said, with a gleam in his eyes.

(Bionicles are LEGO creatures that most of the elementary-age boys I know are fond of building. These creatures' mission in life is to defend a mythical city from the forces of evil.)

So, my son's perfect world would have adventure, conquest and a clear distinction between good and evil.

Sounds appropriate for his age and gender.

As I was trying to picture a perfect world, a horn honked outside the office window, disturbing my thoughts.

My perfect world would be filled with the sounds of nature - birds in the sky, children laughing in a meadow, a stream gurgling over stones.

People who have lots would share with people who have little. No one would be hungry.

People would care about the environment, be considerate of others and teach their children to do both.

There would never be gum on the bottom of your shoe. (OK, I know this is a silly one, but wouldn't it nice?)

Children would be considered a joy instead of a nuisance. Parents would take pleasure in raising their children and would realize that this job is a privilege.

Don't know how I'd draw all of that, but I can always dream.

Even if we don't sit down and actually draw our "perfect worlds," I enjoyed this exercise. It's questions like this that allow us to enter the minds and hearts of our children and ourselves.

We need to ask them more often.




The annual "Kids Helping Kids" Greeting Card Contest is sponsored by Pier 1 Imports. Entry forms are available at Pier 1 stores and online at www.unicefusa.org/cards. All entries must be hand-drawn and submitted by Sunday, April 11. Eight children will be selected as runners-up and will win a yearlong subscription to Weekly Reader.




Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at lisap@herald-mail.com.

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