An Obsession with Monkeys
March 07, 2010
A Parent's Perspective
My daughter Emma was obsessed with monkeys. We lived near a zoo for the first four years of her life, and she visited the monkey house several times a week. She loved Curious George.
At seven, she insisted she wanted a pet monkey. It would have been so easy to say, “No, a pet monkey is not a good idea. Sorry.” But instead (in one of my better parenting moments), I suggested she do some research on monkeys as pets. I asked her to present everything she learned about monkeys to me, and we would consider getting one as a pet. She was thrilled, energized, and eager to begin her first research project.
Emma called the zoo and spoke to a monkey house attendant who told her about natural versus domesticated environments. She went on the Jane Goodall Web site and learned about monkey behavior. She learned that monkeys were wonderful pets—until they turned two. Then they tend to eat furniture, ruin houses, and fight with other household pets, especially dogs. We had a three-year-old Labrador retriever.
Emma made the decision, with the saddest look on her face, that a pet monkey was not a good idea. But her love of monkeys didn’t fade. Throughout elementary school and middle school, she referenced and used her learning research project as something she was really proud of—something she knew about that others didn’t. In high school, she was selected to participate in a three-year science research project, and she conducted a comparison of the cognitive abilities of monkeys with those of two-, three-, and four-year-old children in terms of sorting and numeracy.
My lesson from this experience is that when children are fully engaged and “own” their learning process, there’s no end to the possibilities that can result.