April 2011 - Posts
A newborn's social life begins
with the first meeting of baby's and mother's eyes. The strong connection between a child and his
or her parents widens gradually to include an expanding circle of people, both
adults and children, from whom the child learns about the world.
Those of us who have been around
young children know that they learn by doing and that they will try to do
whatever they see others do. What is
less obvious is that they also act in response to the feelings of the people
around them. They are mirrors for our
moods, even for our less then worthy sentiments!
We can, however, also put our
understanding of the deep imitative capacity of the young child to good use in
helping them develop their social life and social graces. Good manners come from experiencing others
I have often witnessed a parent
or caretaker holding out a goodie to a child and saying, "What's the magic
word?" After the child says, "Please." he or she is given the treat. While this kind of behavioral approach can
achieve short-term results with children, real manners arise from feelings of
appreciation and consideration for others.
These a child acquires from the example of adults and older children who
act out of their awareness of one another.
If family members say, "Please"
and "Thanks you" and treat one another with consideration, that mood as well as
the accompanying behaviors will take root in the child's being. Acquisition of manners will not be connected
to extrinsic rewards but to an emerging social sensitivity that is growing well
alongside a healthily developing sense of self.
The dinner table is the perfect time for a daily practice in
"Please pass the peas."
Do you care for another helping of potatoes?"
"No, thank you. I
have had enough."
"How was your day?"
"Thanks for asking."
"Please clear the table now"
"Thanks for helping with the dishes."
There IS magic in manners and how
children can come to them without bribery or exhortation, but by following the
lead of those whom they love and who love them.
Whether the spider is described as itsy bitsy, or
eensy weensy, the children's song that tells of this creature's exploits is a
beloved part of daily life for many of our little ones. Small pink lips and tongues that are just
beginning to form the words for water
and sun, up and down, string them
together to croon this gentle song again and again. For my daughter, not yet two, this was a
clear favorite. Moving her chubby
fingers skyward on chubby arms that were barely able to stretch above her head,
she climbed the 'pider up the water'pout,
singing joyfully. So many parents have
told me that their children were able to settle and stop fussing in spite of a
difficult separation, illness or bout of teething, if the caregiver continued
to repeat a favorite song or verse or nursery rhyme. What is it about verses and songs that
immediately capture our children's attention and give them such delight?
Recent scientific research shows that babies arrive
as hungry for words as they are for food.
In fact, when a baby is born his/her hearing
is the most strongly developed of all the senses. Though this probably doesn't surprise
us, it is worth thinking about. Rocked
by the swinging movements of the mother's body in motion- walking, sitting and
rising- the unborn child is also cradled in a vibrating web of language
patterns and intonations in his or her native tongue. A child is born ready to listen and to
Besides supporting language acquisition, the treasury
of lullabies and other small songs, circle games and traditional rhymes contain
a richness of imagery that feeds a child's imagination. Young children also take great pleasure in
the words themselves, their assonance, alliteration and musicality. Ending rhymes create clear beginnings and
ends, very satisfying to hear amid a jumble of noises and adult
conversations. Clearly, poetry isn't
something highbrow and inaccessible, to be taken like medicine. It is part of our human legacy and a source
of great joy. Whenever poetry is brought
to our children it adds color, depth and passion to their experience of the
Kindergarten children love poems
about animals and the world of nature.
Poems drawn from images of the natural world, described with clear
bright pictures and pleasing sounds, will live in their memories for years to
come. A carefully chosen bedtime verse
or mealtime prayer can be like a balm in the day, comforting, and celebrating
the blessing of being together. For
older children, quick hand-clapping games , jump rope rhymes and tongue
twisters give practice to the instrument of speech and bring a sense of
accomplishment. Older children can also
memorize longer pieces and particularly like ballads or poems that tell a
story. Making up limericks or rhyming
couplets can also be a lot of fun on a car trip. An old fashioned game of ‘The Minister's
Cat", in which new adjectives are given in turn to describe that singular
feline, build vocabulary, and can be quite hilarious!
Our connection to language is deep. A well-turned phrase can make us laugh with
delight or send a shiver up our backs.
We have physical response to well-crafted words but some tastes take a
little time to grow. Taken to the Stratford Shakespeare
Festival as a young teen I remember sitting through my first plays, bored and
restless. Then at 16, during Henry the 4th, bright day finally
dawned. The clear sense shone down
through the arcane words and I found myself charging along with young Prince
Hal, exalting, suffering, and repenting with him. That the actor was awfully handsome, and in
tights, didn't hurt either of course!
Like riding a bike, I have never gone back.
The love of verse and poetry that is born with young
children can be developed and grown with just a little encouragement into a
lifelong passion. Why not learn a poem
as a family this April? William Wordsworth's "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" is
a fine example. Or ask for a verse,
written or learned by heart, as a birthday or Mother's/Father's Day
present? Or plan a picnic this summer at
one of Seattle Greenstage's productions of "The Tempest"? You may need to bring a favorite (quiet) toy,
but don't think the words fall on deaf ears.
That spider may have been itsy bitsy, but I look back on her now as one of the first
steps on a road that led through a
rolling landscape of nursery rhymes, handmade books, avid listening and
reading, plays attended and poems
learned by heart to a love of language that will last a lifetime.
Who likes the rain?
"I do," said the child, "for
In my big galoshes, I can
Make a lot of splashes!"
If your child wrote you a
letter on one of these rainy spring days, it might go something like this...
Mommy and Daddy,
know that if I see a puddle (no matter how big or small) I have to walk in it
and maybe even jump in it. That's part
of my education. I need to find out
about things like water and earth and air.
So help me by making sure I have a good pair of boots and don't insist
that I stay inside when it is raining.
Just help me zip up my raincoat and make sure I wear my hat. I have to watch the raindrops fall and the
puddles fill and follow the little rivulets that run down the street.
is also something that I must explore as often as possible. So be prepared for muddy boots and sometimes
wet and muddy everything else, in case I slip and end up on the ground. Once a friend of mine actually lay down in a
puddle! We are in love with the world,
especially the world of nature. We need
to touch, taste, and try it all out. We are humanity's future explorers and
scientists and artists and need to know our medium well.
son or daughter
From the time she was able to
walk my daughter liked to draw. The
first time I remember hearing her put two words together, it was to say "purple
circle", describing a picture she had made.
When she was old enough for summer camps, my first thought was to find
an art class for her.
When I told my husband, who
is from India, what I was thinking he
"That is just like you
Americans!" I was stunned. He went on to
say, in effect, that she already spends an hour or more a day coloring and
drawing. Did it make sense to give her
more time at something she is already skilled at and is working to master or to
help her expand in directions of challenge?
As it turned out, she took
the art class, but we also enrolled her in a group tennis lesson and a great
little nature camp. But the essential
question stayed with me and I have thought a lot about since then.
If my child entered third
grade loving to read, but vexed and frustrated by the task of mastering the
times tables would I want her teachers to let her sit in a corner lost in a
book and let the rest slide? Of course not! We send our children to grade school
not to become specialists in one field but to learn the remarkable and broad
spectrum of skills possible to a human being. Still the impulse is strong to hothouse
our kids, to let them play to their strengths and expand in one field, whether
it be athletics, academics or the arts. In
India, at least according to my husband, they still believe in struggle. He was
shocked at the idea that a child who was challenged by handwriting would be
allowed to use a keyboard in grade school instead of practicing, working harder,
toughing it out and feeling the sense of accomplishment as they improved over
time. I guess I agree.
Isn't it just this ability to
take on a challenge and overcome it, and the growing confidence a child gains
that they will be able to do just that when the next problem arises, that makes
a flexible and capable life-time learner?
I am no dragon mom but I think struggle, and frustration, and even a
little boredom as kids learn the discipline of keeping at something that isn't
‘their favorite thing' is good for our children. They may even grow a new favorite! It is easy
to find time for the things they love and they have their whole lives to narrow
their interests and find their unique gifts, through high school and college
Our world changing is so
quickly, with new technologies and innovations. We cannot be certain that any one set of
skills will help our children meet the future.
A fully developed human being, capable in heart, hands and head, surely
has the best chance.