Hedgehogs Do Rot and Other Teachable Moments

As a parent, it is part of our job to teach our children…stuff, right? You know, educate them, teach them about the world around them, and…stuff. Yes?

Okay, so this week, I went to supermarket with the littlest one, who has just turned three. She had one of the free pieces of fruit while we went round. An apple. She sat in the trolley. She ate her apple. Food was purchased. Bribery was not necessary. I left the shop with the same number of children I entered with. At no point did I have to break any of Usain Bolt’s records in the dairy aisle* in order to make leaving with the same number of children I entered with happen. It was a very successful supermarket trip.

We went back to the car. I put the shopping in the car. I put the three year old in the car. She handed me the apple core. I looked around. There were no bins anywhere in sight in the car park. I could have run back to the shop, but we weren’t very near the shop and she was already strapped in the car. We were parked right by a grass verge and hedgerow. So I put the apple core under the hedge, because it’s an apple core.

The three year old had a few questions about this behaviour. I explained that it is okay to put rubbish on grass or soil instead of the bin as long as the rubbish is natural, like apple cores, because it will rot. I said that it would be very bad to leave rubbish like plastic there because that will never rot. It will stay there, and it doesn’t look nice and it harms the environment. I said that things that people have made that are not natural usually have to be taken away properly by people, but things that belong outside like leaves and fruit don’t cause any harm when they are left outside. They just rot back into the soil and feed plants. The discussion continued. It seemed to be going well. I got ambitious. I said that we call things that will rot ‘biodegradable’, but things like plastic are not biodegradable. The three year old had this: ‘Because they won’t rot. Plastic won’t rot.’
‘Yes, exactly. Well done.’
‘And hedgehogs. Hedgehogs won’t rot.’
‘Wait…what? No…’

Okay, so now I’m explaining that hedgehogs are, in fact, very much biodegradable. As long as they are dead first. The whole thing took quite a dark turn, really.

Moral of the story: don’t teach your kids things. It won’t go well. When you see a teachable moment, just let it pass you by. Wave it on its way. Unless you want to find yourself explaining about hedgehog decomposition. It does not matter how unlikely it seems that you will find yourself discussing hedgehog decomposition by providing that innocent bit of educational information to your child: you will end up with dead hedgehogs.

I really should have known better. I once, whilst painting with my two pre-schoolers, merrily informed them that black is not really a colour. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Didn’t seem like such a good idea 30 minutes into the discussion with a four year old and a nearly three year old about what the f**k black actually is.

These moments are not teachable moments. These moments are the reason the phrase ‘just because’ exists. There is nothing like attempting to explain the world to a small child to make you realise that you don’t have the faintest clue about anything at all.


*That’s me who often ends up sprinting down the dairy aisle. I don’t think Usain Bolt has actually set any of his records in the dairy aisle. As far as I know, he does not hold the world record in the 5 Metre Toddler in a Dairy Aisle event.


  1. Oh I do love a teachable moment! They do go on don’t they! I find myself wound up in knots with questions and more tangential questions to the point I have lock jaw! As parents we just can’t resist teachable moments can we, we’re hardwired! Thank god for being able to ‘on the google’. #fridayfrolics

  2. Elizabeth says:

    I tried to explain simple genetics (I was a molecular geneticist by trade before I became a mother, so it really was simple genetics to me!) to my then-4 year old at the aquarium once. They had an albino alligator. Oh, the questions! We homeschool, though, so I count it as class credit!

  3. El says:

    Hahahah! I usually shove a piece of chocolate into my kid’s mouth, the moment passes, he forgets and we go on our merry way. I am not too fond of explaining too much as mine has a penchant of revealing everything and anything to anyone who would hear him.

  4. As usual, Lucy, you have made me laugh out loud at your observations about parenting and in this case, the pitfalls of teachable moments. May I suggest you add another answer to your arsenal? “It’s magic” worked well for me over the years and now I’m using it to explain things to my grandsons. This should have a secondary benefit of encouraging them to learn how to use google.

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