• Meg Hickling

Mechanical curiosity

Updated: Jul 1

The wonderful characteristic that primaries have in abundance, and that we wish they could hold on to for all of their lives, is mechanical curiosity. This is the ability to ask without shame or hesitation, “Exactly how does it work?”


Let me illustrate how beautifully they accept the mechanical details.

I was teaching a large group of primary students in front of all their parents one evening and arrived at the part where I say, “and the man’s penis goes into the woman’s vagina to deliver the sperm to her ovum.” A little six-year-old girl shot up her hand before I could say another word.

“Wait a minute, wait a minute,” she said. “Just where would be people do that?” She calmly waited for the parents to still their laughter and went on. “I mean, would you do that in your house, or would you go to the hospital?”


I could tell from the inflection in her voice that she fully expected me to say, “You go to the hospital and the doctors and nurses supervise this activity.” So, since I am always emphasizing to the students that this a science lesson about bodies, I said, “Oh, probably most people would do this in their homes, in their beds, at night.”


“Oh,” she said, obviously accepting the mechanical details.

But her little friend sitting beside her then spoke up, and in a thoughtful, musing way said, “In their beds, at night… I never knew that.”

Then, she crossed her arms, looked up at me, and said, “Now, what next?” perfectly prepared to go on to the next piece of information that I might have for her.

It was a classical illustration of primary-stage inquiry. Here’s another.


When you say to a primary, “The penis goes into the vagina to deliver the sperm to the ovum,” a frequent response from five- or six-year-old would be, “Oh, how long does he leave it in for.” Immature adults might be embarrassed or evasive. Mature parents would reply factually and calmly, “sometimes it only takes a second and sometimes a few minutes.” Many children hear family gossip that indicates Uncle Sid and Auntie Alice took five years to have a baby.


It might be funny or cute when six-year-old Suzy thinks that Aunty and Uncle were joined together for five years, but it is not cute when Suzy is 15 and pregnant and she says “I can’t be pregnant, we only did it once, or on Saturdays, or for a year.”


It would be wonderful if children could hang on to this quest for details for the rest of their lives. Parents and educators need to welcome the questions and rejoice in the mechanical details; they provide golden teachable moments. Treat every question with respect and seize every moment that comes along to give science and health information.


Perhaps most important of all is to never lose your sense of humour. Enjoy the questions, the funny misuse of words, the mispronunciations, the misunderstandings - your own as well as your child’s. Children hate to be laughed at and most of all hate to be teased, but our shared laughter is a gift.


Meg Hickling is an award winning registered nurse and the bestselling author of several books including Speaking of Sex and Boys, Girls & Body Science. After teaching sexual education for over 40 years, she uses her recognized sensitivity, gentle humour and warmth to dispel the myths and instil the knowledge of sexual health in children and parents.

Excerpt from the book The New Speaking of Sex used with permission by Wood Lake Publishing.

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