Is it possible to enter the mind of a child? I have strong memories of my childhood, and I don’t only mean of events, but of sensations and perceptions.
The child’s sensory world is different to the adults. Colours are more vivid, sounds more complex, and tastes sharper and more defined. This is not just me in reflective mood, I’m referring to observations that have been confirmed by scientific research. For example, in some experiments, adults were given a target colour, and asked to match it by adjusting the saturation and brightness of another panel. They had to identify that exact point at which there was no difference between the two samples. Most adults will perceive the two as identical earlier than a child does. This trend applied across most sensory modalities. Their eyes, ears, noses and tongues are sharper than ours.
It’s the reason why the thunder of our childhoods was always more threatening, why the shadows moved more in a child’s darkened bedroom, and why spring was more joyful – the world is actually deeper for a child. It’s also why children will spit out a cabernet sauvignon and shriek at a whiff of gorgonzola cheese – to their senses these things are poison. Sorry to tell you, but we don’t have more refined palates, people. Instead, we’re stuck with dulled ones that need something as sharp as alcohol or blue cheese to awaken them. We can hold the red wine in our mouths long enough to rhapsodise about hints of blackcurrent, and pretend that’s a sign of sophistication.
Descriptions will always add depth to a narrative. Describing all sensory input is, I think, essential when writing for children. Given that their senses are clearer, it takes more effort to get it right.
I spent a while today musing about how things felt when I was little. I closed my eyes and sent myself back to a time when my feet didn’t touch the floor when I was on a chair, a time when most decisions were made for me.
I held the memory of the chill of a smooth window pane as I pressed my cheek to it, and watched my breath condense in a haze beside me. The freedom of bare feet on sand, the grains rubbing between my toes, the hot sand quickly becoming unbearable and having to hop hop hop to a towel.
Just some random moments. Difficult to capture – I’ll keep trying.
After that, I’ll have a go at recreating the world through an adolescent’s dark coloured, hormonally charged lenses.