I was in the grocery store the other day and saw a young boy, 8 years old or so, perusing the different flavors of ice cream and trying to settle on just one. As his mother walked up, he made his decision, grabbed a gallon, and, showing it to his mother, excitedly asked "What is eggnog?" He didn't know what it was, but had decided that it sounded more intriguing than any of the other options. His mother's response was "Um, I really don't know what it is, but it's...something weird." Obviously, he returned the eggnog ice cream to the freezer and made another selection.
This interaction saddened me. As parents, teachers, care providers, whatever our roles may be, we have a huge influence on the lives of children. Many of their habits, preferences, and ideas are formed, in large part, through their interactions with us. We have opportunities every day to encourage children to step outside of their comfort zones and try something new. This is very difficult if we aren't willing to do the same thing ourselves.
If I'm honest with myself, I know that I haven't always encouraged my students, or even my own sons, to try things with which they weren't comfortable. I know my own biases have influenced them. (Sorry, but I just really can't stand pickles and, strangely, neither can my sons.) My new challenge for myself is to back off on my own opinions, encourage them to try things for themselves (safe things, of course), and see what happens.
What if that young boy's mother had said "Gee, I don't know what eggnog is, but let's find out."? Maybe they could have found a smaller container of ice cream, bought a bit of eggnog, or even found a recipe to make eggnog themselves. Perhaps he wouldn't have liked either eggnog or eggnog ice cream, but I sure would have loved to have seen him have the chance to try it out for himself.