Monday, March 26, 2018

Teaching And Learning From Preschoolers

I was enjoying the late March sunshine on Sunday with a walk through Belltown. Ahead of me on the sidewalk I noticed a boy and a woman I judged to be his grandmother walking toward me. The boy was walking backwards, slowly, studying his shadow over his shoulder.

"Hey," he said, drawing his grandmother's attention to the shadow he cast behind himself, "Now my right hand is my left and my left hand is my right." It was a moment of every day epiphany, the kind with which childhood is filled. As adults we seldom walk backwards. As adults we've come to take our shadows for granted. Perhaps we haven't entirely lost our sense of wonder, but it's certainly harder to come by as we get older unless we have young children in our lives to point them out to us.

I'm not a grandparent, but I expect this is a large part of why people are so excited to become one. You love your own kids, of course, but they grow up and part of that process, at least in our world, is to become increasingly immune to the magic of small moments as we live more and more of our lives in the future or the past, rarely noticing the miracle of our right hand becoming our left. This woman who I judged to be a grandmother, stopped to admire her grandchild's shadow. "It's true," she said. The boy began waving his shadow arms at her, reaching them out to touch her shadow. For a moment she hesitated, I think because she knew I was watching, but then, with a shrug that told me she had decided to not give a damn what a stranger thought, began waving her shadow arms back at his. They touched shadow fingers, shadow hands, shadow arms.

The tagline for this blog, one I placed here in 2009 before I'd ever written a single post, reads, "Teaching and learning from preschoolers." It's there because it's true: I've always learned at least as much from them as they do from me and most of their lessons come in the form of this boy playing with his shadow.

I sometimes wonder if we aren't born knowing everything we can ever really know: there is breath and light and pain and comfort. We are driven to nourish ourselves, to connect with others humans, and to play with the shadows and other everyday wonders. The rest of what we learn is, in part, a process of unlearning these central things as we attempt to construct meaning from the evidence, a process that takes us farther and farther into a world that only exists in the future or in the past, unlike these shadows that are here right now waving back at us. This is the gift of having young children in our lives.

I left that grandma and grandson there on the sidewalk, still delighting in their shadows on a Belltown sidewalk in the late March sunshine.

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