First-grade teacher Bret Turner was just thinking of a way to engage his precocious students over the holidays. He gave his class a tricky riddle to solve over the break, thinking no one would be able to solve it, but giving their brains something to grapple with none-the-less. However, he and most of the Twitter world were as surprised as ever to find out that some kids actually do have all the answers to the most complex issues in life.
Turner should know a thing or two about what young kids are capable of. He is a 37-year old teacher living in the San Fransisco Bay Area who has spent the past seven years teaching first- and second- graders. He actually has a real love for riddles because of the conceptual work it makes kids do. It is a Turner tradition to start each week with a different kind of riddle and let’s the kids grapple with it and seek and answer.
This one particular week the riddle went like this: “I am the beginning of everything, the end of everywhere. I am the beginning of eternity, and the end of time and space. Who am I?”
The first one to guess the riddle gave an impressively deep answer: death.
While the whole room fell silent over the answer, it was in fact not the right one! Turner took to Twitter to share the surprising turn of events. He mentioned that an “awed, somber, reflective hush fell over the class” when the word was written out on the board. Clearly, it was a lot for young kids to consider the realities of such an immense concept as death.
In that moment, Turner did not want to reveal the actual correct answer to the riddle, was is the letter ‘e’.
“This was a very typical first-grade moment; guesses to riddles are always great, and often the ‘wrong’ answers are better than the correct ones.”Turner later told the education news outlet TODAY Parents.
The first answer was not the only one to reference finitude or the nothingness present in the world. Some of the other guesses were “NOT everything”, “the end”, or even the most surprising: “nothingthing.”
What is even funnier is that when Turner actually revealed the answer to the riddle, most of the kids were not impressed. Perhaps it had to do with the grammatical nature of the joke, a reference to word-play that is likely lost on 7 and 8-year-olds.
According to Turner, the collection of answers pertaining to death was actually indicative of the topics that young kids often speak about. He points out that young kids face death on a regular basis, whether in the form of aging grandparents or a dying pet. They are just as fascinated by it as anyone, and take pleasure in seeking some resolution to it finally happening.
While it might no be a surprise to Turner, it sure is a surprise to most of us who imagine our kids talking about playing outside and imaginary worlds. The un-groundedness of kids is something we assume without paying attention to all the different things they like to speak about – including death.