From the desk of...

Parenting Moment…

Earlier this year my youngest child began his final year of preschool.  He is growing up so quickly, and I’m not sure I am ready for the things to come.  I worry that I am just able to parent adequately enough for the world I grew up in, but not at all for the world that has sprouted up around me in the meantime… My son will inherit a world that my grandmother would hardly recognize, and he will need a great variety of skills to find his own place to be productive in that world… am I giving him the skills he needs?

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My daughter, a unique joy in my world, faces her own struggles as she grows toward independence.  I can’t be with her every moment, and I can’t protect her from the inevitable encounters with people who will be mean.  She faces a world filled with people who don’t adore her and understand her as intricately as I do – have I given her the skills to be confident and capable in the face of criticism?

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I recognize these same worries on the faces of the parents who entrust the care of their children to me every day, and in the conversations I have with many friends and family members who worry for the children they love.  (“Are they getting the skills they will need to navigate this world I feel like I don’t understand?  Do I need to give them something more?  Have I already failed as a parent somehow?”)

And then I stop to think for a minute, and I realize these important truths:

We are all human.  We are all connected.  We share the same basic needs and the same basic fears.  And even though our world has changed in ways I can hardly comprehend (technology! politics! economy!) the nature of children has not changed.  The skills we knew to be valuable when we were growing and learning ourselves are just as valuable and just as valid today…

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This summer, on our family vacation in Europe, I stopped to peek into a little Italian preschool.  These incredible posters, detailing the philosophy of the school, decorated the beautiful garden out front: IMG_3670

“The right to silence.  I am entitled to  listen to the blowing of the wind, the singing of the birds, and the gurgling of the water.”

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“The right to learn.  Every child has the right to build knowledge with imagination, the right to feed a taste for discovery and a passion for questioning…”

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“The right to the wilderness.  I am entitled to build a shelter, to play in the forest, to have grasses to hide in and trees to climb.”

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“The right to do things by hand.  I have the right to hammer nails, to saw, sand, glue, fashion out of clay, tie with strings and to create fire.”

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“The right to get dirty.  I have the right to play with sand, soil, leaves, water, rocks and twigs.”

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“The right to be idle.  I have the right to live in moments of time unscheduled by adults.”

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“The right to darkness.  I am entitled to see the sunrise and sunset, and to admire the night, the moon and the stars.”

Every one of these sentiments represents something I absolutely believe to be true, and many of the parents of the children I work with believe the same things too, and yet…

… there is so much pressure in the world around us to be greater-faster-smarter, that it is hard to hold fast even to what we already know…

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(photo by Miss G…)

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At the beginning of this school year, when I was in the throes of back to school planning, lunch making and labelling, I received a letter from my son’s preschool that gave a moment of pause.  I’m not sure of the original source, but it told the story of a worried mother, looking online for help understanding what her own preschool child was struggling with.  In wondering what her child should be able to do, she was greeted with a list of achievements and talents that served to make her own fears and worries worse… (what if the other children already know more?  what if my child is falling behind?)

The teacher reading this list of fears and the ridiculous lists of achievements and “learning goals” was understandably frustrated, but in response to the many with their lists of targets and learning goals and outcomes and achievements she had this incredible wisdom to share:

Childhood isn’t a race.

She is so right!  It isn’t a ladder of achievements that starts at birth and climbs up to a bar exam (or a dance exam!) or the ivy league or a six (seven?) figure salary as a measure of success.  Childhood is the beginning of a great adventure that serves as a season of discovery for those who are living it and as an opportunity for renewal for those participating in the journey the second (or third!) time around…

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(…photo by Miss G…)

The teacher writing this letter went on to include this list of required learning for 4 year olds, and I would add only, as I am a parent of both a 4 and and an 8 year old, and a teacher of many students well beyond, that this is required learning for all children, whatever their age…

…that they’re loved wholly and unconditionally, all of the time

…that they are safe, and how to keep themselves safe in public, with others, and in varied situations

…that they can trust their instincts about people and that they never have to do something that doesn’t feel right, no matter who is asking

…that their family will back them up

…how to laugh, act silly, be goofy and use their imagination

…that is is always okay to paint the sky orange and give cats six legs

…their own interests, and that it is okay to follow them

…that the world is God’s creation and so are they

…that they are wonderful, brilliant, creative, compassionate and marvellous

…that it is just as worthy to spend the day outside making daisy chains, mud pies or fairy houses as it is to practice phonics.  (Scratch that.  Way more worthy.)

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(…photo by Miss G…)

*****

So I take a deep breath.  I think of my children and of the incredible joy that they bring to their days.  I think of the way that the world is opening up for them and I am grateful for the opportunity to experience the energy of that world of discovery with them.  As for the rest of the “learning targets”… we’ll figure them out as we go…

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