Thursday, August 04, 2011

And Then She Was Done

It's the kind of thing that happens in preschool, especially one like ours where we sometimes use 4-foot long paint brushes, which are part of a story I hope to tell you tomorrow, or the next day, or maybe never depending on how it ends. You're just minding your own business when someone who never even knew he did it, lays a big green dot of paint on your cheek.

Okay, so if you're another kid you wail at the world, making sure he knows, demanding, I guess, that the universe first apologize for this offense, and then do something about it. Or maybe you're another kind of kid, one who doesn't even notice, or care, and you go merrily on your way.

But no, you're the 2-year-old you are, so instead you touch it with your fingers to make sure it's really there and start rubbing it around. Yep, that's paint on there alright.

Fortunately, there's a large basin of bubble solution nearby, which is, after all, soapy water. Just the thing. You don't need anyone to tell you what to do with the big, green dot of paint that has appeared on your cheek. Naturally, you'll want to wash it off.

I'm glad I was the only adult on the scene as this was happening because maybe someone else would have leapt in to help, perceiving it as a struggle or a problem. But she never appeared to be asking for help, so I didn't do anything but watch. I don't know if I'd have responded this way a month ago, maybe, but as I did I was reflecting on some things I've recently learned from of a couple of my recent ECE blog connections.

Janet Lansbury's Elevating Child Care blog is one of those. A practitioner of Magda Gerber's philosophy of infant care, she writes brilliantly about the importance of holding young children, and babies in particular, fully capable of engaging meaningfully with the world, on their own, without the ever-present intervention of adults. She writes of the importance of sensitive observation and what we can learn about very young people as they engage with their world. She's an advocate for "doing less." Her most recent post is an excellent example -- make sure to watch the video. But as I observed my friend work through her situation with the big, green dot, consciously holding myself back from helping her, I was thinking specifically about a story Janet recently told about keeping her hands off while a toddler managed to get herself un-stuck from a climbing apparatus. As Janet wrote:

Babies don't mind struggles. To them frustration isn't a bad word. But without meaning to we teach our babies to fear those things by projecting our adult point-of-view, by reacting (or overreacting), hurrying to 'bail them out.' . . . feeling 'stuck' (is) just another state of being, an experience to examine, embrace, and hopefully overcome through confident perseverance.

I was also, simultaneously, recalling another writer who regularly reminds me to take a step (or more) back and trust children with their own learning: Aunt Annie. I love this post about a child who may have appeared to need saving to a less patient eye, but instead was teaching herself to stand for the first time.

I lost track of my green-faced friend for a few minutes as I was called to attend to other classroom matters, finding her later up by the cast iron water pump, halfway across the outdoor space. She was using one hand to pump, while attempting to catch water with her other hand.

The pump handle was jammed, so I wiggled it a bit to get it going again, but otherwise I just watched. Somewhere in there, an adult had apparently intervened with a washcloth or paper towel. Her face was mostly clean by now, but the job was evidently not done to her satisfaction. Repeatedly wetting her free hand, she carefully wiped and rinsed the last of the paint and soap from her face, doing a through job by feel, I guess, because there was no mirror in which to check her progress.

And then she was done.

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Melissa @ The Chocolate Muffin Tree said...

Great story!

Anonymous said...

I love it! KIds need time to figure things out on their own. We jump right in instead of letting them problem solve.

janetlansbury said...

Tom, I'm honored to know that you are learning through my blog. I am definitely learning from you, too. And it's gratifying to connect with such a like-minded person!

Your wonderful story brings a couple of thoughts to mind...

1)This green spot adventure is no less interesting to a child than playing a game or watching a show, and no less valuable either. We commonly believe that messes, bumps and band-aids, diaper changes, snacks, etc., are things to rush through and take care of so that children can go back to playing. But the child doesn't see it that way... Every experience life has to offer is intriguing through a young child's eyes. And the great thing here is that you understood... So, it wasn't just the fact that you held back and allowed her to solve a problem, you also projected a life-affirming perception of this little "in-between" kind of experience. You saw it as educational and positive.

This is one of things that I love about children... They inspire us to appreciate all life has to offer, not just the "fun" stuff.

2) For me, at least, holding back from helping too much takes a conscious effort and continues to take a conscious effort no matter how many times I've done it. But, it's well worth it for everybody involved... So, kudos!

Jeanne Zuech said...

Love the green splotch. Seems quite a metaphor for things that all of a sudden become an obstacle for us - even when we are 2 - and have to ask ourselves "now what?" Am quite impressed with the child resolving her own dilemma with minimal interference/rescue from adults. Thx for the post!

Anonymous said...

I just came across your blog randomly. As a mommy to a 12 month old, I found this to be a great reminder and will definently remember to stop, watch, and learn from my little guy. Thank you so much for sharing.