Going to the Aquarium with Kids- How to Let Them Be Little

We have the most fabulous aquarium here in Long Beach, and we take our kids on a regular basis. We go so often that we are familiar with almost all the creatures that live there, and we are past the point where I need to direct my kids attention. We go for an hour or two at a time and I let their interest and attention spans guide the day. Sometimes we gravitate towards the sea lions, and others they just want to sit in the little cutout under the penguin habitat and watch the birds swim above them.  On our most recent trip, they were all about the touch tanks. We looked, we touched, we tried to keep Abram from injuring the poor little creatures, and we splashed a bit in the water. I pointed out a red sea anemone with white polka dots to my daughter. “Look Lila! This one looks like it’s wearing Minnie Mouse’s dress!” She giggled and touched its bumpy surface.

Then here comes Hyper Academic mom.

You know the one I’m talking about. She is here on a mission to teach her child all the things. Her little guy could not be more than three years old, and still I hear her quizzing him incessantly. While we’re pointing out Minnie Mouse over here, I hear her say “Xavier, I want to see how many animals you can identify in this touch tank.” Little Xavier points to a starfish sea star.  “Good,” she prods, “and what is its genus and classification?”

What. The. Hell. I sure don’t know the answer to that question. Heck, I doubt the man running the sea star touch tank could even give you the answer to the question.  I could hear her pushing and pushing to get more information out of her kid, and it made me wonder-

Can’t we just let them be little for a little while?

Like, can we just let the kid touch the things? Does everything have to be an opportunity to push more, to go further, and to exceed expectations? Granted, I don’t know their backstory- maybe little Xavier has a fascination with sea life, maybe his mom is a marine biologist, maybe there’s SOME REASON why this is happening. But maybe? Maybe she thinks this is what she HAS to do, and that just makes me sad.

As a former teacher, I think people expected that my kids would be over-the-top little academics.  And honestly? They’re not. They are bright, and funny, and fiery; they are kind (usually), self-reliant, and resourceful. They are not little fact-givers. They are not rocket scientists. And they are NOT able to name the genus and classification of the roughly 12,000 animals that live at the Aquarium of the Pacific.

We spend our days painting and coloring and walking on curbs. We take trips to the park, and spend too much time watching TV.  We cuddle and give tickles and dig our toes into sand, and we use toddler words to describe the things that are happening in their lives.  They are not little scholars. They are 5 and two years old, and I am loving this age.

So I’m okay with them acting their age.

But still, I’ll congratulate Xavier’s mom on his vocabulary and knowledge, because maybe she needs that, and his little lisp did made the genus Asteria sound particularly adorable. And my kids? Well, we’ll keep using words like “squishy” and “humongous,” we’ll learn about being kind to creatures big and small, and we’ll keep looking for Sponge Bob in the Pacifc Rim Exhibit.

And I think they’ll all turn out just fine.

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9 thoughts on “Going to the Aquarium with Kids- How to Let Them Be Little”

  1. Xavier is going to CRUSH kid jeopardy! I think my kids will more likely will end up on Double Dare, but they give good prizes too so it’s cool.

  2. That is awesome that you have such a resource so close and that you take full advantage of it. Glad to hear you let them explore on their own instead of trying to force it on them. I highly doubt they’d be so willing to go if they constantly felt like they were learning. My wife and I are both teachers. Our children are of average smarts, despite what others my think about teacher’s kids being brainiacs.

  3. We took my daughter to an aquarium for the first time a couple of months ago. She had so much fun and loved getting to touch some star fish, sting rays and small sharks.

  4. The pressure we feel as parents is unnecessary, but still real because of the standards that public schools place on our children. Public schools are so much different than when we were kids. We are afraid of our children falling behind in a system that is too ahead for their development with too much homework, too much prep for standardized testing, and not enough playtime. Instead of fighting back, we conform.. and our kids suffer. It’s terrible. Not all moms have the option to homeschool their kids nor do they have the option to private school (like Waldorf schools, for example), and it’s those moms who feel the pressure to push our kids because we don’t want them to fall behind. It definitely needs to stop but I’m at a loss for where to begin.

    1. It’s funny, I JUST had this conversation with someone a couple days ago. I feel like such a hypocrite sometimes, because I sent my daughter to elementary school early, at 4, so that she would be prepared… But I still HATE the pressure for early academics. I try to balance it out with as much little-kid stuff as I can outside of school, but still, I feel super torn between what I feel is appropriate for her age and the realities of school.

      Thanks for this comment, by the way. Really made me think! There’s so much more to this conversation than can be addressed in a single post.

  5. Great article! You are so right that the push for early academics is actually hindering children more than it is helping them. Children need foundation skills before they can tackle abstract academic skills.

    I’m surprised Xavier’s mom wasn’t asking him to spell the sea creatures or add up how many were in the tank. Maybe that was for the next trip.

    An aquarium is a wonderful place for kids to learn, naturally! Not through quizzes and a barrage of questions that no 3 year old should know the answer too!

    I’ve written an article that I think you will probably enjoy. Here’s the link!

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