Talking to young kids about reproduction
March 16, 2011 9:59 PM   Subscribe

Looking for tips on teaching/discussing reproduction to kindergarten age children.

I have a kindergarten age daughter who is pretty bright,very inquisitive, and starting to ask more pointed questions about reproduction (both human and otherwise). Would love to give her a solid answer that furthers her understanding of the world, without overwhelming her with too much info. Welcome any and all personal experience, anecdotes, etc. Thanks AskMefi!
posted by dan g. to Education (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
None of us here know your daughter. What you might want to do is go to her pediatrician.

Next time you go for a checkup, after the checkup ask for tips. The ped would probably have VERY practical answers for you that work. Having hundreds of kids and parents come in every week, they are very good sources of TESTED information.

Good luck, and you should post back here what you did and how it worked.
posted by hal_c_on at 10:27 PM on March 16, 2011

Here's what I did: when to my gigantic local bookstore and browsed their whole section of books on just this topic. It's perfect--my kids can look at the book on their own or with us, and ask questions. The book has also given me some helpful vocabulary and approaches. I think ours is called It's Not the Stork.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:18 PM on March 16, 2011

Granted, I had an older sister who was three years older, but when she got the book, so did I: Where Did I Come From? Due to my sibling rivalry, I made sure I was able to read what my sister did.

Except for the tickling analogy. I guess it works at the time, but, um, yeah.
posted by smirkette at 11:40 PM on March 16, 2011

I second everything hal_c_on had to say.
It's been 15 years now, but when my bright, inquisitive son wanted to know anything scientific (why is the sky blue?) I just told him the facts. When he asked the "where do babies come from, how does it happen?" question, we'd already covered the "DNA is a chemical in each of us that gives us our "traits." So I told him the parents "exchanged" DNA. Shortly after, he saw a program on TV showing some arthropods "doing it" and said "Oh! They are exchanging DNA."
Of course, the conversation goes on ...
IMO, at that age they want a simple answer to a simple (!) question.
Later, the harder questions start, like: economics, class, religion. (To me)
posted by bebrave! at 11:41 PM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had a copy of Where Did I Come From when I was around that age...
posted by russm at 11:42 PM on March 16, 2011

"Where Did I Come From" looks great! It looks kind of like a simpler version of the more puberty-focused book I was given around age 11, It's Perfectly Normal.

"It's Perfectly Normal" might make a good supplement to "Where Did I Come From", though, as it has both more complex content that will be relevant later on (more about sexuality as opposed to simply reproduction, stuff about contraception, etc.) and lots of engaging, cute illustrations (including little cartoons of the process of fertilization!) that would probably interest a curious younger kid.
posted by bubukaba at 11:54 PM on March 16, 2011

The Robie Harris books are indeed great. My kid has taken hers off the shelf and flipped through them at various periods. Most recently she became obsessed with reading It's Perfectly Normal for about a week at the end of 2nd grade. Hasn't touched it since.

In my experience you answer questions as simply as possible. Focus on answering the child's specific question and limit elaboration. Be mindful about what assumptions are built into your answers. For example, if your kid wants to know how babies are made, and you say it's when a man and woman love each other very much, she may become confused by her friends with single or gay parents. Trust that these questions will be asked again at different points, and you will have a chance to revisit them in developmentally appropriate ways.
posted by serazin at 12:20 AM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

I also would like to offer a counter to the idea that the pediatrician is going to offer some kind of scientifically verified advice about this. I don't know of any studies that demonstrate the "best" way to talk to a kindergartner about sex or reproduction. In my experience some doctors have helpful advice on these psychosocial questions and some do not. I've also found doctors to have less and less time for these kinds of thoughtful discussions, sadly.

Sure, ask your pediatrician if you like, but there's no reason not to ask other parents too. You don't have to have a fancy degree to raise a kid well.
posted by serazin at 12:24 AM on March 17, 2011 [4 favorites]

We had "It's Perfectly Normal" in 7th grade. It's very ... um ... graphic. Which is fine for middle-schoolers, but probably not kindergardeners!
posted by radioamy at 7:43 AM on March 17, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for your answers so far everyone!
I think what I'm really looking for is, what is that "developmentally appropriate" response for a kindergartener. Developmentally, the difference between kindergarten and say 2nd grade is pretty significant.
I too strive to give dead simple, honest answers to any questions my kids have about the world. It's the fine balance of trying to give truthful, complete answers to their questions that help them understand the world they are a part of, without bogging down in too much detail.
We have discussed the concepts of "parts of the mother and parts of the father", at that level of detail, but now I think she is getting more curious about the mechanics so to speak.
Thanks again to all of you, I will look into some of the books that have been mentioned, both for now and/or the coming years.
posted by dan g. at 8:25 AM on March 17, 2011

My daughter is a little younger than yours (she is now 3 and 1/2-ish), but this topic came up over and over again last year when her little sister was on the way. She already knew about seeds growing and eggs hatching, so I framed sperm/egg in those terms. Mama has lots of tiny tiny eggs inside her body, and every month one egg gets ready to try to make a baby. Daddy has lots of tiny seeds, called sperm, in his testicles and they swim out of his penis to try to find mama's egg. The strongest/fastest sperm finds the egg and it grows inside Mama's uterus until it is ready to be born. She seemed to grok it. We talked about the process almost daily, you could tell she was processing the info. We looked at lots of pictures of sperm/egg, reproductive systems, babies in utero, both online and in books. We also watched tons of birth videos on youtube -- both animal and human. Her favorites were of dolphins being born. :)
posted by fancyoats at 8:29 AM on March 17, 2011

Best answer: I think what I'm really looking for is, what is that "developmentally appropriate" response for a kindergartner.

Well, I specifically said things like, "Most women make tiny eggs inside their bodies. Men make tiny cells called sperm. If an egg and a sperm meet, a baby can start to grow. Like a seed." At several points I did answer questions about how the egg and sperm met (though not till asked) by saying, "For most people it works like this: A grown up man puts his penis in a grown up woman's vagina, and the sperm comes out of his penis and into her body." The first time I said that I think she was like, "Huh." and moved on, but another time I told her it somehow sunk in and her response was, "WHAT?!!!" We both laughed and moved on to another topic.
posted by serazin at 9:18 AM on March 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Yeah, I'm expecting the "WHAT?!" followed by a rapidfire response of a million questions about my own personal experience with the process!
But maybe we'll just laugh and move on, that would be perfect :)
posted by dan g. at 10:04 AM on March 17, 2011

"Where Did I Come From" was one of my favorite bedtime storybooks in 1st grade (along with pretty much anything put out by Shel Silverstein). It's accurate, fun, and indeed developmentally appropriate for her age.

"Most women make tiny eggs inside their bodies."

We keep getting told that female external genitals are vagina, and that human females make eggs. dan.g, you have an opportunity to break out of the cycle of misinformation.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 11:39 AM on March 17, 2011

I'm expecting the "WHAT?!" followed by a rapidfire response of a million questions about my own personal experience with the process! Yeah, I can see why you might be a bit anxious about this scenario!

Maybe if questions get very pointed about your specific experience, just saying something like, "That's something that is private and you'll learn more about that as you get older" is OK?
posted by serazin at 3:50 PM on March 17, 2011

Huh? Do you feel it's inaccurate to say women make eggs, nakedcodemonkey? I don't think it's a big inaccuracy, but I guess you could say, "Most women have tiny eggs inside their bodies." Or if you prefer, "Most women have tiny cells inside their bodies called ova"... but that feels a little over the top for a kindergartener.
posted by serazin at 3:54 PM on March 17, 2011

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