Thursday, August 12, 2021

In The Warmth Of A Mid-Summer Day

For a time, the children gathered together around the workbench where they made things with junk using glue guns. Others chose to create using construction paper, tape, and staplers. They talked quietly amongst themselves as they worked, sharing tools and ideas as they went.

After awhile, in ones and twos, they declared their projects complete and began to move away into the rest of the playground. Someone began to work the handle on the cast iron pump and the flow of water attracted the children, who took up shovels to direct the flow of the water. There was talk of creating a lake that was deep enough to float the old row boat that has rested in the sandpit for over a decade. They organized themselves.

It was a warm, breezy day, mid-summer in my mind. I tried not to think of all those poor children who have already returned to school. It's impossible not to think of it as an outright robbery. For me, summer belongs to children. Only a self-important killjoy would take that away. I'm grateful to live in a place that at least respects childhood enough to give them a proper summer vacation. 

I was sitting with a mother whose oldest daughter just completed her first year of public school kindergarten. As we watched the children from afar she sighed. Her children have been part of Woodland Park for the past five years, a place where the seasons change, but the spirit of summer feeds the entire year. She said, "Kindergarten was great, but it made me doubt myself. When we're here I know my kids are doing the right thing." 

No one ever needs "desk time" more than they need this. 

Earlier in the week, I performed a little slight-of-hand for the kids. Some of them figured out how I did it, which lead to a conversation about magic that has stretched out over hours and days. Some of them believe in magic, others think it's all slight-of-hand. We've wondered about unicorns and tooth fairies. We had a long conversation about dragons. We discussed the fire-breathing kind, but also the metaphorical ones that exist in Chinese mythology: the creative dragon that flows through our minds as we make art, or the water dragon that exists in the flow of water coming from the pump, or the fire dragon that makes the sun so hot. One group of siblings told us they were taking a weekend drive up onto the mountain dragon's back where there would still be snow even in the summer. And then there was the heavenly dragon, who is so large and powerful that its entire body is made of pearls of wisdom and other dragons.

Some of us danced together. Some of us danced while hanging upside down by our knees.

Summer, childhood, where there is no such thing as falling behind. The dragon myths are uplifting, but the one about falling behind is crushing our children and crushing our families. Indeed, it's not even a myth, but rather one of those dark fairytales designed to frighten us into "proper" behavior. I've heard of teachers being celebrated for giving children short breaks to dance at their desks, a crowd control technique that empties dance of its joy and freedom. Indeed, it's not even dance.

I recently had lunch with a friend who teaches in the public schools. She's always been a ball-of-fire, aware of the flaws in our educational system, but convinced that she, at least for the children in her life, could overcome them. This time she told me, "I no longer think I can change the world. I'm not even sure I can change the world for a single child." She had hoped that the pandemic would have opened people's eyes to what we are doing to children in the name of "desk time" and the fear of falling behind, but, as she said, "Everyone is just rushing to get right back to the crap." According to a study performed by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, more than one in three educators are considering leaving the profession or closing their child care programs within the next year, with another 14 percent saying "maybe." Already, there are shortages of child care and preschool options across the country.

Against this background, I watched these children play in their natural habitat. I took several deep breaths, allowing myself to join them in this genuine moment of summer, of childhood, without adults breathing down their necks, without having to get career and college ready, without worry over the myth of falling behind. This is what young children should be doing: creating, digging, splashing, talking about dragons, and dancing, not in a rush, but in the warmth of a lazy mid-summer day.


"This inspiring book is essential reading for every family choosing a preschool, every teacher working with young children, and every citizen who wonders how we can raise children who will make the world a better place." ~Dr. Laura Markham, author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids
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