Will your work with children be a time of beginnings or of endings? A time of making connections or of severing relationships? Will their time with you be a time of addition and multiplication, or a time of subtraction and division? A time of growing or shrinkings? A time of rainbows or of quicksand? Will your journey together be one of “No Frills” “No Stops” “No Detours” “Do it My Way”– or will you take the scenic route? Will you brake for animals, autumn colours, ideas, surprises, poetry, serendipity?
What will you and your kids make happen together; how will you shape your time together? Whatever you choose to enrich with imagination, wonder, attention or other ways of looking, becomes part of the reality of a child – and is for a little while filled with magic.
What can you share with your kids? How will you provide a safe place for them where they feel free to explore and pursue the “sweet smell of success”? The children will be waiting, waiting for something special to happen to them, and for that precious time that you might have with them, you can offer something that they will remember for the rest of their lives. Believe that you can do something beautiful in their lives, and that they can grow beyond the hurt and pain and rejection of their past – and they will surprise you; they will amaze you.
Your children will only grow with you if they feel safe. They will only learn to see the beauty of their world when they are safe from the humiliation, the put downs, the harsh criticism and being ignored. They will trust you with their feelings only if they feel that you value their ideas, that you will not betray them, that you will protect their dignity as fiercely as the wild protect their young. Mauree Applegate warns, “A child will no sooner turn out the pockets of his mind to one he does not trust than a shy boy will turn out the treasures of his pockets to a stranger. He has so many wonderings, questions, fears and dreams – and so few adult friends with whom he can share them”. Virginia Tanner reports: “the child of four seems to possess tremendous creative energy, but by the age of nine seems to have it so diminished that it is no longer a source of rich fulfilment. Could it be that through ... lack of vision, hours of unguided television, stereotyped toys, we are stifling the very thing that will bring them their richest moments of happiness?”
Starting with you
Reach for the things that have become important in your life. Get in touch with your deepest feelings and concerns, your strengths and weaknesses, and cut through the layers of inhibition, programmed responses, and stereotyped answers. Be willing, yourself, to experiment with new ideas – even at the risk of their failing – and ask yourself questions. Never stop asking, never stop looking, and giving, and communicating. You can share the wonder of your world, and in so doing, help your children to find the wonder of theirs. The challenge we will face in our work with children will not be to “make everything better” but to help them to look beyond the obvious, and to face their world with renewed hope and courage. It will be our task to challenge them to think, wonder, imagine and express their own questions, answers and ideas – without tension or fear. Remember, beauty is not seen when one is afraid. All people search their world for what is important to them. They see what they want. A tired child looks for a place to rest, a lonely child looks for a friend. In other words, when children are physically well, when they feel safe, and sense that they belong, they are ready to see their world, and then develop a sense of appreciation for it.
Children gain an appreciation of beauty and a feeling of wonder – by doing things. This means sensing, feeling and responding. We cannot force children to see beauty as we might do; we can only give them the opportunities. We can sensitise them to the splendour of a sunset, to the rhythm in rainfall, to the expressions in someone’s face – but how they perceive these things is personal to each individual. Opportunities for aesthetic experiences enrich life for any child. It does not matter whether an activity is useful for anything else; at times, doing something for the sake of doing it is enough. Children find things exciting for many different reasons: it might be because things are colourful, different, changing, moving, wierd, etc. When planning a stimulating activity for children in order to increase their aesthetic appreciation, ask yourself the following questions:
Can they experience it with more than one sense?
Can they interact with it?
Is it interesting for them?
Is it colourful?
Is it rewarding “fun, adventurous, exciting, intriguing?
Is there an element or serendipity or surprise about it? Often the most meaningful learning takes place in those unanticipated surprise moments which occur in the midst of the humdrum of the day.
If you are open and flexible, and responsive to the children and their needs and interests, you will discover many opportunities for meaningful discovery. Teach your children to SEE life. “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye". Teach children to OBSERVE. We can’t appreciate or sympathise until we learn to SEE. We can’t empathise or understand until we learn to LISTEN. We can’t forget ourselves until we learn to notice others.
The first step toward sensitivity is observing. There are things to be learned from everything we see; and metaphors for life everywhere we look. Russian novelist Dostoevski said: “Love all of God's creations, both the whole, and every grain of sand. Love every leaf, every ray of light. Love each separate thing." American botanist George Washington Carver said: “I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station, through which God speaks to us every hour, if only we will listen.” You don’t necessarily have to go to a national park or a vast forest, of climb a high mountain to experience nature. We don’t have to look very hard to find nature. We just have to look hard to really see it.
Walk ... then talk
Start with things. Take a walk with your kids and see what you can observe together. Try to notice things you have never seen before. Think and talk about why they are the way they are. Look for comparisons to make between what you see and some aspect of your life. Our childen have missed so much. When other children were learning about things, ours were often preoccupied with the uncertainties, the fears and the losses in their lives. Now, with less experience and less time, they have to catch up. They have to make increasingly difficult decisions in life without knowing enough and without understanding enough. We start with inanimate things, but soon enough they must be able to see and understand the more complex phenomena of people. Unlike nature, the important and meaningful things in people lie beneath the surface and it takes more than sharp eyes to see them.
Awareness of people
“When you look at rocks or trees or mountains they stay put and invite you to spend as long as you like looking and understanding. People don’t stand still at all. They move, their emotions change, their needs evolve, and they may intentionally not show you on the outside what they are feeling on the inside.” But we can teach our children to see people – to become aware of others. Wilfred Peterson attempted to define awareness as: identifying yourself with the hopes, dreams, fears and longings of others. It is learning to interpret the thoughts, feelings and moods of others through their words, tones, inflections, facial expressions and movements. It is stretching the range of eye and ear. It is taking time to look and listen and comprehend. And Maltbie Babcock said, “Life is what we are alive to. It is not length but breadth. To be alive only to appetite, pleasure, pride, money-making and not to goodness, kindness, purity, love, God, history, poetry, music, flowers, stars and eternal hope – is to be all but dead."
“The second flame in the universe is the flame of language. People look for each other with words of fire, and a tongue of fire that stammers is better than a head full of brains that is silent.” – (From a Chassidic tale) Again, begin with yourself. You are vital in encouraging free, natural and easy communication. You are a role model, a prompter, a helper, an audience. Your response to the child's utterances will encourage or inhibit the free flow of communication. Share yourself with your children. Share your favourite book, food, word, song, something, anything “because sharing gives the message that you care enough and are willing to give of yourself and your life.
Emphasise the good
Encourage Happy Talk times by helping youngsters to get in touch with the things that are right and good in their world. Make time for them to give themselves completely to listening experiences: play music to them, read to them, and help them to hear the colour and brightness of music, the melody of words. Help them compile a list of their “most beautiful words” and their “most hated words”. Give them a “feeling” vocabulary with which to express their inner thoughts. If your own mind is filled with wonder and the joy of life, then your work with children will reflect that enriching attitude. You will be able, then, to encourage, to teach, to guide. You will be able to learn again to see the world with the eyes of a child.
Benefits of sensitivity
Children (and adults) gain more insight into their world and thus become more sensitive to others. Children are more likely to become self-learners, because they experience the joy of discovery. Life is more exciting when one has the capacity to be puzzled and surprised. Children are more tolerant when they have learned that there are many possible ways of seeing and doing things. Children become more independent when they have learnt to think and ask questions. People who are open to and appreciative of beauty be come exciting to be with, and to learn from and share with.
Give children opportunities to experience with all of their senses, to get in touch with their inner world – butterflies in the tummy, the lump in the throat, the glow of pleasure in achievement – and finally to see beyond the obvious with their eyes and their hearts.
Creative Activities for Young Children 3rd Edition, Mary Mayesky, Donald Neuman & Raymond Wlodkowski, Delmar Publishers Inc., New York. (1985)
Teaching Children Sensitivity, Linda & Richard Eyre, Ballantine Books, New York, (1987)
Teaching Language Arts Creatively. Mimi Brodsky Chenfeld, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers, Orlando Florida (1987)
The Little Prince Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Piper Books Ltd, London (1974)