Hey! teacher, leave our kids alone
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When our daughter was two, one of her Birthday presents was a set of 6 ‘activity books’. The books were designed to ‘educate the pre-school child.’ covering topics such as words, numbers, opposites and shapes.
Rather than my heart soaring at the thought of all the advantages and rewards these books would bring into Little Miss Green’s life I put them away ‘for later.’ That evening I reflected on my actions, on my emotional and rational responses to these gifts, questioned whether I had responded with my daughter’s best interest at heart, or if I was denying her for my own selfish motive.
I thought about the importance of these first few years of a child’s life and realised that these are the crucial, fundamental building blocks that will nourish the foundations of her future. These years provide the stage on which my daughter could perform her life for all to see, and naturally, every parent wants to do the best they can for their child.
So why did I not feel that teaching her words, shapes and colours was ‘the best’ I could do for her right now?
Imagination not knowledge
I thought of Albert Einstein’s quote, ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.’
I was reminded of a comment I once made to a parent who had switched to formula feed because her breastfed child started to drop down the growth centiles. I explained how futile and pointless those centile graphs were, (firstly because they were designed for bottle fed babies anyway, which most health practitioners fail to tell you) as they draw our children into the burden of expectation right from day one. Right from the moment the first dot appears on that graph we have labelled our child as above average, below average or normal and we then place an expectation onto that child to follow this trend, questioning and judging and projecting our fears if they don’t. Such a burden for a young soul who as yet has no knowledge or understanding – they are bought into this world with belief and trust. Belief at everything you say, think and feel towards them and about them.[amazon-product align=”right” small=”1″]1903458064[/amazon-product]
We place further burden onto our young children with hectic ‘adult’ schedules that involve rushing around dancing to the abstract tune of time, then further add to this with early formal education. We constantly hype our children up with a ‘be here, do that’ lifestyle, combining loud, fast moving images on a TV or computer screen with fast food loaded with chemicals and additives and then we wonder why our children are rife with the so-called ‘Attention deficit’. We get frustrated when they don’t respond to us, why they can’t sit still, why they don’t listen, focus or concentrate. So we turn the blame onto them, dragging them to the doctors for ‘medication’ for their ‘condition’ or we attempt strict, authoritarian-style discipline in an effort to regain ‘control’.
We all like to cut out the middleman – it saves us time and worry – so why not apply this principle to our children? Why not cut out the hectic lifestyle and mood-altering drugs and allow our children to be children, rather than subjecting them and expecting them to conform to ‘miniature adulthood.’ Our children are not miniature adults, as the clothes manufacturers designing bras and thongs for 8 years old girls would have you believe.
Reassurance and love
Our children need reassuring, loving, steady rhythm in their lives. Society chooses routine and structure, black and white and expected milestones of development, but rhythm is more organic, it is freer, its boundaries are nebulous and it is not the slave of the clock. Rhythm provides security in that we know what is coming next, but it is slave to no one, no thing and respects the individual child……
If you watch a child at play, you will notice the dream-like quality to their experience; they haven’t fully awakened or incarnated, they are still ‘between worlds’ – one foot in each camp, neither fully here or there; somewhere in between, in a unique space. We seek to ‘crash land’ our children and to integrate them fully into this world without a thought for the speed and pace which will be comfortable for them as incarnating souls. We even wake our young babies up so that we can feed them and have them fit more conveniently into our schedule. One mother told me that her daughter looked at her totally bewildered, wondering why she was being rushed through her breakfast when she returned to work 6 months after her child’s birth. That child couldn’t talk, but her communication was unmistakable.
Don’t just sit there – DO something!
[amazon-product small=”1″]1856752860[/amazon-product]At the age of 4, we expect our child to be able to sit still through 4 or 5 hours of school lessons at a time. Watch your 4 year old at play – give them a free reign to choose their activities and watch how long they choose to sit still. Is it any wonder we label our children hyperactive? It is not within their nature to sit still for any length of time. Watch a young baby exploring solid food for the first time – it is a total body experience; hands flail, legs kick, head looks around. The entire body is a sensory organ and we expect children to shut down that instinct and simply sit still and listen or look without feeling. We fail to remember that with children, ‘to see is to touch’.
Children are designed to learn through movement, not by sitting still and so we try to ‘drug them’ with TV or computer, kidding ourselves that we are not doing them any damage because we choose the TV programmes and the computer games with educational value at the fore. Any event or situation which forces a child to become quickly incarnated erodes their ability for imaginative play and shocks them into ‘living life’.
Think back to the last time you overslept and were late for work: those heart-wrenching, sick-to-the-pit-of-your-stomach feelings that leave you feeling disorientated and perhaps a little headachy, or nauseous, or tired, or ‘out of sorts’ for the rest of the day. Remember those feelings next time you rush your child to ‘get ready’ or ‘sit down’ or ‘get in the car’ and remember that as an adult, you had the knowledge and understanding as to why you felt so rotten for the rest of the day – your child does not have the same intellectual concepts that you do.
Perhaps you felt like a rushed child, dragged through childhood without the time to comprehend and enjoy the sensations of the world, or perhaps you felt like a child thrust into literacy and numeracy performance and assessment, forced to cope with school at too young an age. How many parents describe their children as ‘flourishing’ at school? How many describe their children as ‘coping’?
Imagination is the key
Imaginative play is a strong, developmental need in a child and ceases to have any developmental role when it is manipulated by an adult’s perception.
Imagine yourself as an artist, sitting outside on a warm sunny day, fully immersed in your creative pursuit. The birds are singing, the trees whisper and you are thrilled with the work of art you are creating. Someone you love comes along, looks over your shoulder: ‘That’s beautiful,’ they say, kiss you and walk away.
Someone else comes along and looks over your shoulder: ‘Is that supposed to be grass? Grass is greener than that; look, here’s the green paint, let’s make it look more like grass shall we. And who’s this? Oh, it’s supposed to be me, well let’s make it look more like me, my hairs a bit longer and fairer than that, where’s the yellow paint…..’
How do you feel? Possibly that your privacy and personal space have been violated, and how satisfied are you with your painting? Do you feel it is your expression any longer? We all say that children are resilient, they soon bounce back but constant bombardment of our adult opinions, thoughts, perceptions and expectations imposed on our children’s play destroys their self-confidence. They become too self aware, too self conscious to lose themselves in the realms of the imagination that is necessary for play and development.[amazon-product align=”right” small=”1″]1903458048[/amazon-product]
Rationalising children’s play
Drawings, role play, faery dens and stacked towers are not inferior to the written word and these expressions of our children command our respect. Through this we meet our child in the space they are in, we validate their self expression, we communicate on their level, we incorporate and respect their values. If a magnolia bud from the tree is a butterfly to the child, then it is a butterfly. If a piece of wood is a magic wand to the child, then it is a magic wand. Until the age of seven, a child has little understanding of the difference between real and imagined and they have the rest of their lives to learn about magnolia trees, butterflies, pieces of wood and magic wands – there is no rush!
We can’t wait to rationalise play as children’s work, but this is our way of justifying that our children are *doing* something, that they are somehow learning reading, writing or maths, we cannot simply allow them to play for play’s sake – we don’t give them the space to ‘just’ play shops, we turn it into a mathematical educational experience by encouraging them to add things up and give change………….
We claim to value self confidence in our children and then get exacerbated when our child says ‘I can do it!’ then we place our children in early educational positions where they are overstretched or pushed at a pace too fast and then get exacerbated when our child says ‘I can’t do it!’
If we allow our child to play for the sake of playing; without direction, without guidance, without suggestions, without interference then they will automatically find self expression and self direction through which self esteem and confidence will blossom and grow. Through playing, they automatically learn and experience physical skills, problem solving, social skills, initiative, perseverance, imaginative and creative responses to challenges, tolerance, compromise, flexibility, empathy and a host of other skills. We replace quality time with ‘thrill time’ in an effort to assuage our own guilt and fears and then wonder why we end up with a child who is never satisfied.
We place them in full time education at the age of four and wonder why our children change, become tired, or ill, or ‘play us up in the evenings’. One mother recently confided in me that she felt envious of her 6 year olds teacher because ‘she spends more hours a day with her (child) than I do’. How many parents leave their crying a child at the school gate saying ‘it’s for the best, they need to learn independence.’ Absolutely, we all need to discover our independence but at FOUR years old?
[amazon-product small=”1″]190345865X[/amazon-product]Another woman I know leaves her 2 year old screaming and crying at playschool. Why does she do it? ‘Oh she’ll learn so much, she’s too clingy and I know it will bring her speech on.’ That girl will learn just as much from playing in the garden, safe and secure in the energy of her mother’s love – knowing that the person she needs the most in her life right now is there for her. If her needs are not met now, her speech will probably not ‘come on’; she will probably retreat into herself, not bothering to talk because right now she is learning that when she expresses herself, her needs are not met. When she ‘asks’ her mother to stay with her, in the only way she knows how, her mother turns and walks away.
If childhood is not rushed, children sense that there is plenty of time to do things well through which comes a natural sense of satisfaction. Children do not need instruction; they are born with a fundamental desire and willingness to imitate; so look into the mirror the next time your child ‘plays you up’ or is ‘hyperactive’ and unable to focus.
Children learn through repetition and rhythm, through love, mindfulness and reverence. ‘Teach’ your child with your own mindfulness; invite your children rather than instruct, meet your child in the space they are in, do not attempt to mould your child; just encourage your child to express fully who they are with love in your heart, encourage co-operation rather than competition, nurture the inner confidence a your child and work at their pace. My greatest mantra as a mother has been ‘there’s time.’ And there is!
My thanks go to Little Miss Green for her inspiration and to Lynne Oldfield, who’s book ‘Free to Learn’ served as a catalyst for this article.
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