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Teaching little kids is a great ego boost [Commentary]

I don't have any kids of my own, for now, but I feel like I'm surrounded by toddlers or babies in different situations - social, religious, shopping, whatever - often enough that I'm relatively used to having them around.

To be honest, I usually don't even really notice little kids unless they're doing something especially strange or adorable. I'm used to seeing them running around, being squirmy or leaving their toys and books everywhere.

The way I see it, little kids live in their world and I live in mine. Our paths don't really cross, unless I'm deliberately hanging out with my friends and their kids.

This weekend, though, I noticed that other people's kids can be more than just entertaining or distracting.

They can also make you feel really, really smart. That's right, I'll say it: being around little kids is a great ego boost.

The other day, I went with my friends, and their toddlers, to Columbia Mall in Howard County (excuse me, "The Mall in Columbia"). At one point, they stopped by a children's play area that I think was built pretty recently inside the mall.

I don't know if anyone has happened to be there, but it seemed to me - again, as a non-parent - to be a pretty fancy play area, with a squishy floor, sculptures to climb on that were also made of a slightly squishy material and leather-type couches all around the edge for adults to sit on.

The whole thing was medical-themed because it was built by Howard County General Hospital, so some parts of it were a little weird, like a tunnel shaped like a pill bottle.

(Not to downplay anything about Harford Mall, but the Columbia play area did seem kind of different - especially the pill-bottle tunnel.)

Anyway, my friends were relaxing on the couches while their toddlers ran around like maniacs, along with a ton of other little kids, in the contained space. ("This is like an exercise yard in a jail for babies," one of my non-parent friends joked.)

I was standing next to a game, on the wall of the "baby jail," that I decided to call "the matching game." It was a bunch of flippy, plastic blocks with pictures of silly faces made of fruits and vegetables. Each face had a matching pair, and basically you had to find the pairs.

I watched kid after kid come up to the game, spin the blocks around aimlessly and then run away. The top of the game explained, "Match the Pairs," but obviously the kids were too young to read.

Since I had nothing better to do, just standing there, I started telling some kids how to actually play the game. Some were still bored, but I got a fair number of them more interested once they actually understood that the goal was to match the faces.

My friends thought it was funny that I was just randomly teaching a bunch of kids at Columbia Mall how to play a game, but I honestly had a great time.

Like I said, it was a huge ego boost. The kids thought I was totally smart, and they were learning something, so it was a win-win.

Eventually, I memorized where most of the fruit/vegetable faces were on the board, which I like to think made me seem even more like a genius.

When my friends got ready to leave, I jokingly protested, "But I haven't taught ALL the kids here the matching game yet!"

Hopefully this doesn't make me sound completely arrogant. If I wanted to sound a little wiser, I would probably say something like, "While we have a lot to teach children, they also have a lot to teach us."

So let me conclude with something I learned from the kids while teaching them to play the matching game (besides, like I said, the fact that I'm an unqualified genius, haha).

I learned that if you're doing something that seems to have no purpose, you might as well just be flipping blocks around. Once the kids figured out what to do, they were a lot more engrossed and interested.

In that sense, "the matching game" has a lot in common with "the game of life!" Everything makes more sense when you know what the goal is. Also, it helps to know how to read - just saying.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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