Dear new Habibi’s parent,
Welcome to the wacky world that is our little schoolhouse.
We hope your stay is a pleasant one and that no one tries to poop on you. Speaking of human waste, the following stuff is presented to you to use as you see fit. It’s paper, so a bird cage’s floor is quite possible. Paper airplanes. Lining for your shoes. Whatever you ultimately use these papers for please give them a read as they attempt to address the ever-frightening subject of children and the people who surround them. Cliff’s notes are not available so you travel alone. But in the endeavor of raising your children you are most certainly not alone. We are glad you’re here and look forward to still feeling that way months, even years from now. And hopefully you will feel the same.
Habibi’s education is about context, much like real life. Words or deeds that are helpful and comforting in one situation may be invasive and destructive in another. For children t school, throwing sand in the air when no one is close by is a harmless activity. But the same action performed when people are within range can cause pained eyes and itchy heads. So…sometimes, throwing sand…OK. Sometimes, throwing sand…not OK.
It’s the same with words. What is the context in which the words are being expressed? What are the feelings behind the words being expressed? What is the intention of those expressing the words? How are they interpreted by the other child or children? These are just some of the questions we ask in guiding your child through this maze called language and human interaction; We’re here to help clarify meaning, to help tie together expressed feelings, to advocate for all. We talk a lot, adults and children, about what we say to and about each other, about what hurts our feelings or makes us laugh.
Everyone has the right to not be called whatever it is they don’t want to be called, whether it’s poop head or dung beetle. They also have the right to test these ‘hidden in the sand’ boundaries with each other and the teachers. How else will they truly understand their own feelings and the feelings of others, if they don’t try it out? I know that some of you have felt more than a little uneasy when your child greets me with a big, smiling “Hey butthead Andrew” or “Morning poopy dumbhead.” Please don’t be alarmed. First, if I don’t want them to call me something, I will tell them. “Wolfgang, I don’t want to be called dorkface,” and they won’t call me that anymore.
I know what you’re thinking. “If you let my child call you a name then they’re going to call gramma, or a neighbor, or the babysitter, or me, a name that none of us want to be called. You’re right, they might. And if they do it’s your job to work through your embarrassment and say out loud to your child and the ‘victim’: “I don’t know if gramma is OK with being called an old bag. Are you mom? She said ‘no’, she’s not OK with you calling her an old bag. Doing this firmly, clearly and empathetically, even with the very youngest ones, will help you both see that each person and each situation is different.
When you tell your child, “don’t say stupid, it’s not a nice word” as a blanket, from-this-day-forward rule, they simply can’t apply it to every situation that will surely arise. Take each interaction separately, considering who’s involved.
“My old college buddy says he doesn’t want to be called dorkface, he had enough of that at grad school.”
“The bank teller says she doesn’t want to be called a wiener face.”
“I’m OK with you calling me a butthead, but not a buttass, it’s just redundant, you know?”
Remember that they’re learning about lots of social rules that they had no part in creating. You shouldn’t be bullied by your child so that you feel you can’t be in charge. You are in charge, they need to know that. But be a boss who rules with understanding, sympathy, and good humor. And remember, some grammas really are old bags.
Toilet Learning (or concepts in proper human waste placement)
Begins with the question: “Why have I decided that my diaper wearer should now don underwear?” Is it because one day he said, “mama, me go potty”? Don’t do it. Just because a little one can say “potty” or “me” in the same sentence doesn’t mean they should begin an entirely different way of life.
And for a one- or two- or even three-year-old, going from diapers to underwear is sure to feel like just that – a whole new way of life: trying to gauge bodily functions that required no such attentiveness previously. Stopping what has engaged them to figure out if the tummy pressure they feel is pee, poop or lunchtime. Expressing their needs to an adult. Walking to the bathroom. Hearing lots of words about what to do, what not to do and where to not do it. Having to clean themselves, even after a “success”. It’s a lot to do, a lot to remember and a lot to care about.
We should also remember as repugnant as it may be to change poopy diapers, it’s a shit-shake better than changing poopy underwear. Wiping another person’s butt has its flaws but wiping crap from legs, ankles, fingers, hair, not to mention carpet, chairs and the tv screen can make for a meltdown the size of Chernobyl.
So before anyone in the house says, “It’s time for underwear”, allow more “real” indicators to guide you:
Can your child easily climb up and down from the toilet?
Can your child remove his/her diaper?
Can your child discuss with you basic principles of pottying?
Have they seen you or other family members go potty?
Do they tell you when they have poop or pee in their diaper?
If the answer is yes to almost all of these, then your child may be ready. But they may not be, so respect their struggle. Steer away from bribery, blackmail or filming the damn thing. Let them take matters, such as getting on/off toilet, pulling down clothes, cleaning themselves, into their own hands. Back off, offer a bit of help then move on. No one needs a confetti party because they took a shit. A smile and a courtesy flush will suffice.
Nature as Nurture
“I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease … observing a spear of summer grass.”
Within these two lines and throughout his masterpiece “leaves of grass”, Walt Whitman expounds on the virtues of “living in the material world.” (shout out to Madonna?)
From the solace of sitting at the water’s edge with a Buddha’s open heart to the excitement of mixing with a thousand faces as they Mardi Gras down the pebbled avenue, Walt explored the true nature of nature. The very definition of contradiction. Harmony and chaos. Silence and roar. Explosions of color and boorish grey heaps.
He embraced the natural world and our place in it, a sometimes uneasy relationship between forces that seem so often to be at odds. But it needn’t be so. One doesn’t have to retreat to some far-off Discovery Channel compound to be in motion with nature’s flow. A city park, an alleyway, a backyard, yes, even a school playground can plug us into nature’s show and tell. The ground itself provides a variety of physical sensations, from the velvety caress of sand to the cool, dog-nose wet of the soil just below the surface. We can walk the land, sit on her soft spots or lay upon her sheets of grass to gaze upon another of nature’s nooks – the sky. Sometimes blue without a smudge of cloud. Other times a virtual highway of clouds in motion, sometimes in turmoil as cool meets warm, a clash that brings us the thunderstorm.
Now really, are there many things cooler than a thunderstorm? To see it, hear it, smell, it. To feel the power and the tender sides of a storm. No one should deny themselves the pleasure of it. And no child should be denied the joy, the challenge, and the life-long benefits of living much of life outside.
And as Whitman himself acknowledged, one need not be a nature-saint worshipping at the altar of the butterfly god. We may be sitting under a tree, grass underfoot, the slightest breeze kissing our cheek while discussing interior design or daydreaming of indoor plumbing and all her benefits. We may even map out plans to hide in grandma’s closet.
No matter. We are outside, abreast of any changes, in tune with the ever-changing never-change of the world around us. A Buddha’s Foghorn Leghorn. A naturalist with a 4:00 nail appointment. An embracer of nature not as a way to hide from people but as the very heart of the matter.
“loafe with me on the grass … loose the stop from your throat, not words, not music, not rhyme I want … not custom or lecture, not even the best,
only the lull I like, the hum of your valved voice.”
A Gift of Presence
As a parent and teacher I have made countless “mistakes” in my interactions with the youngsters in my life. Too much of something here, too little of something else there. It’s inevitable that with so many opportunities to “do the right thing” I do exactly the opposite. Wring as wrong can be. The origins of these failings are many: a lack of experience, impatience, presumptuousness or just plain dumb headedness. I bring to the relationship what I have carried with me for many years: all the good, bad, ugly and delightful. But these youngsters are nothing if not resilient. They can overcome and even thrive in the midst of my educational stumbling and bumbling. But there is one demand I’ve tried to make on myself without the use of excuses, much like the ones on the front of this page. A mindful mantra if you will: BE PRESENT. On the top of my extensive to-do list I write these words as a reminder of what’s the most important to-do thing I do. Whether my son has a story to relate in seemingly unrelateable terms or one of my pre-schoolers has a knee that creaks and requires a comfy lap for one minute short of eternity, I must be there for them. Ears hearing. Face expressing. Body comforting. These are the moments so necessary to a youngster reaching for brilliance in emotional grad school. Nothing I do will cost these youngsters more than my half-attentiveness, a crime worse than absence. Even a crazed stream of expletives in traffic turmoil plays better than a distracted, silent sojourn. If I give audience to my youngster’s presentations, whatever form they take, my youngsters will find reason to continue presenting throughout their lives and certainly some sweetness will follow.
Thus Bit Zarathustra
There’s an old Yiddish proverb that, loosely translated, says: “The child that bites is like the fiddler gone mad. Nobody knows what to do with him but, secretly, everybody wants to smash him in the bagel.”
Being the parent of a child who bites can feel like being the keeper of a madman. Confusion. Guilt. Helplessness. Even anger and embarrassment. There’s something so visceral, so barbaric, so National Geographic about one human sinking his/her teeth into another human’s skin. With one chomp all the worries we have as parents for our children and as members of our civilization leap to the forefront of our minds. We imagine child therapy sessions and anger management workshops, teenage drive-bys and serial headlines. And that’s all before we’ve had breakfast. Nothing seems to say “behavioral problem” like a child biting. But alas, there is hope for those who suffer at the hands (or rather teeth) of a child who bites. Consider these unscientifically gathered statistics before you put your little potato on a couch:
99.9% of children under the age of five have bitten someone in the past month. Indeed, odds are they’re probably biting someone right now. (there is a kid on Topeka, Kansas who has never bitten anyone, but that’s only because his grandpa extracted all his teeth in a fit of jealousy).
Less than 10% of children who bit regularly during the pre-school years go on to bite in elementary school. I base the 10% on my personal knowledge of Habibi’s graduates over the course of 12 years (actually 0%) and on what Bill O’Reilly said the other day (thus the 10% increase).
So if you’re a parent of a child who bites, what do these statistical dung heaps mean? Well, in regard to the first one, it means that young children learn with their mouths. Many secrets of a young child’s world area revealed through open mouth experimentation. What is soft and hard? What is cold and warm? Stiff and pliable? Like a scientist they make their way through the material world in search of Madonna. But what they often find is other children, also exploring mouth first. So of course, like any good, competing scientists, what do they do? They go after each other … they bite. Sometimes as a field test. (what happens when I bite subject #2?). Sometimes they bite to gather more materials. (If I bite that arm, it lets go of that very necessary shovel!). But no matter what the motivation to bite is, the reason they bite is because they can. And when you’re trying to master lots of bodily functions at the same time (e.g. walking, talking, pottying, etc) it’s nice to fall back on a skill you already have mastered. (are we adults so different?)
The second statistic simply reveals that as more skills are mastered, the need for other skills diminishes. The development of language is especially key in replacing a child’s need to bite as communication of anger, frustration, curiosity, seeking of materials. All these motives for biting can now be accomplished with developed verbal skills, improved physical prowess and social influences that simply were not present previously. They move on. They use better tools, such as pleading or tantrum throwing or the often heard “you’re the dumbest dad I know.” Consider them on their way to enlightenment … Rambo style.
Now what if your child is on the receiving end of a Spielberg jaws? No fuzzy feelings arise when a parent discovers a bite mark on their child as they prepare for bath time. My goodness! Just look at those teeth marks! And a bruise to boot! Now you may be in no mood for more stats, but, please, bear with me. These numbers are your friends.
99.9% of children who have been bitten by another child have themselves bitten other children. (for the .1% please refer to the Topeka, Ks. Grandpa thing mentioned earlier).
90% of children who have been bitten in pre-school will not be bitten during the elementary school years. Go ahead and talk radio, Bill.
So what can we glean from these statistics? First things first. At some time in his/her short little life, your child will be bitten by another child. It may happen once, twice, six times. But if you are being informed of these incidents before you discover prints on the body then we should be able to move on.
Betting bit does, in general, hurt more than a slap or a push or a hair pull. But like all these, the pain does go away. Don’t let the offending bite print fool you 0 by the time you’ve seen the horrific ruins, your child has long ago moved on. But how do they move on? How do they keep a physical assault from leaving an emotional wound? That’s where we, the adults, come in.
Begin with comforting. Hold them if they’ll be held. Hug them if they’ll be hugged. Sit them in your lap if they’ll sit. Make physical closeness feel safe again. Don’t rush to talk. When you do speak, make your words drip with sympathy. “Oh my gosh, he bit you. That must hurt so bad. I’m so sorry he did that to you.” Let this be the longest part of the crime scene, rather than the prosecution garnering all the tabloid attention. Once they have stopped crying and seem reasonably calm, ask them if they want to talk to Bill (O’Reilly?) about his biting. If they say no, that’s ok. Gently remind them that you’ll be with them and will help them talk to Bill. If they insist no, then carry on with other adventures. If they say yes, bring the child that bit, and let that child (Bill) know that Al (Franken?) wants to talk to him.
“Al, here’s Bill.”
“Don’t bite me!) screams Al.
Now Bill may object to the loudness of Al’s reprimand. And may do so but also remind him that Al has been bitten and is trying to make certain that it doesn’t happen again. If Al or Bill have nothing more to say, you may speak to Bill.
“Bill, you bit Al and it hurt him very much. It is not ok to bit Al or anyone else. Your teeth are sharp and hard and they hurt us. It is not ok to bite up.”
Now if Bill bites no one else that day, hit happy hour hard. If he bites someone the next day, follow the same regiment, bit skip happy hour – two days in a row at your age is just asking for trouble. Only if a child bites several times in the same day do you add to your above-mentioned routine: a separation of the child from the other children. But rather than “putting them” somewhere else, keep them with you, within sight of the other children but still kept from them. Let the child know why you’re keeping them with you, as a reminder that biting is not ok and as protection for the other children. But this isolation should not last long (3.or 4 minutes). The only way they’re going to decrease the incidence of biting is to develop the necessary skills. And the only way to develop those skills is to be in close proximity with other humans.
It’s as if we all, parents, teachers, and especially children have inadvertently agreed to open ourselves up for anguish, confusion, and yes, even physical pain at the hands of others. But we have. We are all in this together (cliché #56) and though that means we will take our lumps and bites, it also means we will share all the little victories that come our way.
We Are All In This Together … is indeed a cliché, but it didn’t make VH-1’s top 100 clichés for nothing. As clichés go, it rocks.
I find myself tempted to begin this low quality essay with a high quality name-dropping … the ancient Greeks. But alas, the Habibi’s reader, captive as he/she may be, is no fool. Such a thinly veiled attempt to explicate an aspect of our curriculum using such obviously big guns of persuasion as “the ancient Greeks” would of course be immediately detected as and called out for what it is, a shameless, “Access Hollywood”, get-me-into-the-party-cuz-I-know-Screech-from-Saved-By-the-Bell play. So rather than insult our sense and sensibilities, I will instead try your patience with a few paragraphs explaining how and why wrestling among young children is important.
“Your body is your temple.” It’s also your skateboard, your bowling ball, your barbed wire fence, your puddle of water and your plate of mashed potatoes. It is the organism that inspires every thought you think you have without it. We are flesh and blood in a plastic suit world. We humans need, want, thrive on physical exertion. Pulling, pushing, twisting one’s body through Earth’s space is paramount to our survival and our desire for survival. Children, of course, are humans too. Thus, all of the above also applies to those below. Children are finding their bodies’ place in time. Each step, each jump, each head spinning tantrum gives their brains more informational bout a body and what it does. Just as important as becoming aware of one’s body in space is discovering the feel and friction of all these other bodies that seem to be so near to ours. Children need other children (and adults) to bump up against, roll around on climb atop of and just plain push and shove. Bodies need boundaries and boundaries can only be drawn up after true and direct experiences in bodily contact.
During a session of wrestling, children, in good humor and with joyful intentions, pounce upon one another with calculated exertion and focus. Balance is enhanced, strength is increased, agility is honed as the body and mind explore and then create a finely tuned sense of body awareness. Resilience developed through physical play and exploration is an enduring confidence. Physical well-being is certainly regarded as an enviable quality in the human species. Cognitive function is also challenged. Quick decisions are made. Situations are sized up. Conclusions are drawn and then acted upon… in the blink of an eye. It is the very essence of deduction and reasoning … in a flash. Yet it is in the emotional life of children that wrestling bestows her greatest, if not most hidden, gifts. Any persons who gather to engage in a physical activity involving such close body-proximity and open-ended spontaneity are certain to invest emotionally in the activity. And it is in this investment, with the thoughtful guidance of a wisely playful adult, that powerful and enduring emotional growth will occur. Children will gain an ever-deepening understanding of the verbal and non-verbal communication that must take place among all who participate to ensure the very survival of the play. The art of role playing, becoming in a heap of arms and legs what one could hardly imagine at a tea party play date. The thrill of exerting force with one’s body for the joy of exerting that force.
Wrestling’s gifts seem almost imperceptible, especially compared to the very easy to see “dilemmas.” And also especially so little has been written or presented to us about it. (and certainly this bit of amateur word puzzle I have jigsawed together is not much help). So it seems logical. Why have all the bonked noses and pulled hair and contorted faces? Why allow the aggression of it all? Brute force vs. brute force. Unintelligent, arrogant trespassing of boundaries. It all sounds too frightfully familiar, as our country’s leaders once again follow exactly that pattern, to the horror and destruction of many. But what the Greeks know and what we know, (this is not a comparison between the ancient Greeks and we at Habibi’s. Their bodies are dead but their wisdom lives on. Our bodies are alive but our wisdom looks all over the house for it’s car keys for twenty minutes before accidentally tripping over them in it’s pants pocket) is that human intelligence, human growth, human happiness and human survival is undeniably connected to our human body and it’s place in Earth’s space and rather than wrestling being an exercise in aggression and brutality it can be, should be a tool, just one tool, to help alleviate the very violence it appears to encourage. Maybe if more of these men of power had had an opportunity to explore the power of their bodies and words as children, they would not be as childish as they now seem to be … with such grave consequences for the rest of us.
A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO WRESTLING
Choose or create a soft place. Pillows. Blankets. No sharp edges.
If you are joining in, spend lots of time on all fours. This allows for good climbing for them and important body part protection for you.
Don’t make too many rules before you start. Things will come up as you wrestle that you never thought you’d have to address: “pulling my nose hair is definitely not ok.”
Let them push, pull, climb on, jump on, ride like a horse each other. If you hear crying, stop. “Someone’s crying. I’m gonna stop. Oh Sam, you got hurt. You’re holding your head. George slapped your head? Do you want to tell him no slapping heads? Did you hear Sam, George? He doesn’t want you to slap his head. It hurts. You all set, ok, who’s ready for my toe hold now. Ahhhhhhhhhhh!”
This is mucho importante. Do not stop the wrestling activity because someone gets hurt. This will cause hurt feelings and how will anyone learn the boundaries of wrestling if they’re not allowed to test those boundaries? If someone does get hurt, just have everyone stop for a moment, give that child your undivided affection, reiterate their proclamation, if any is made, then carry on.
This isn’t a macho thing. If someone gets hurt or seems overwhelmed, stop and let them talk about it.
Encourage children to try new moves or strategies. Role-play as you wrestle. Add dimensions to the game that may have not been thought of, without dominating.
Pay attention to the physical, mental, emotional stake everyone is investing. Then rub your head on their collective belly.
If you’re not wrestling with them follow all the steps except #2.
* Catchers in the Rye
Phineas is upset because he wants to play with Ellen’s toy but Ellen won’t let him. He tells the Habibi’s teacher.
The teacher says, “Did you ask Ellen if you could use the truck?”
Phineas says, “Yes and she said no.”
The teacher says, “I’m sorry, I know that’s got to be disappointing. Do you want me to go with you to talk to Ellen?”
Phineas says yes and together they walk to Ellen. The teacher tells Ellen that Phineas wants to ask her something. Phineas asks Ellen again to use the toy, But again she says no. Phineas runs away and sits down to cry. The teacher follows him and says, “I’m sorry Ellen wouldn’t let you use her toy. If I had a truck like that right now I would be able to let you use it. She waits for a moment then lets Phineas know that she is going to the sandbox just a few feet away and that if he wants her to just let her know. Phineas stays sitting and cries. A parent walks out to the playground, sees Phineas crying by himself. She sees the teacher in the sandbox talking with another child. The parent thinks Phineas is being neglected…
Several little ones are just beginning their time at Habibi’s. The adjustment means a lot of tears when mommy or daddy leave. Two such mamas have just pulled away and left. One teacher holds a child, crying. Another teacher holds the other crying child. After a few minutes both children have stopped crying, one gets down to play, the other remains in the teacher’s arms. Then another mama leaves her crying child with the teacher with free arms. Both teachers sit, talking quietly to each child in their laps. After a few minutes both children get down and walk over to the sandbox. Now all three of the children who just a few minutes ago were crying desperately are playing. A ball, kicked by another child, hits one of the children. Se begins to cry. The other two kiddos see this and immediately start crying. A parent walks up, sees three small children crying, sees a teacher watching them without moving toward them. She thinks the children are neglected…
Two children are playing together close by a teacher. One child pushes the other. The child cries. The other child looks around. He bends over the crying child, hugs him tries to kiss him. The other child tells him “don’t push me.” A parent sees the teacher not intervene. She thinks this is neglectful…
Through years of direct observations, interactions with children and long discussions about them, we at Habibi’s have learned much about children’s behavior and about our own adult expectations. Years ago as an inexperienced teacher and parent I too would have thought that the teachers in the three previous scenarios were not attending to the needs of the children. But over many years I have learned that our adult instinct or need to immediately scoop up a crying child, verbally “soothe” an upset child or instantly intervene at any sign of conflict if often not in the best interest of the child. It may make the other adults present more comfortable but it does not serve the very ones we are here to serve – the children. In our desire to stop the tears or the emotional or physical hurt, we often prolong the child’s anxiety over the incident. By rushing in and taking over physically and verbally we cheat the child of finding out for himself what is happening to him. We fail to allow them to fully feel the scrape of a knee or the hurt of being rejected by another child. We tell them not to cry or offer them temptations of distraction so that harmony may return. But it’s not a true harmony they experience because they never got to really feel, think about and finally work out their hurt at a pace that works for them. Most often when a child has gotten upset and cries, they want us to know but not to butt in. They want and need acknowledgement of their feeling but not adult ideals of how to fix it. A chance to cry unabated without others to bother you is a valid and integral part of a human’s growth. It releases physical stress, gives us time to think and regroup and helps us to focus on that we want and how to go about getting it.
Physical affection is the foundation of adult-child bonding. Hugging in joy or sadness. Holding with tears or laughter. Sitting on the ground together holding hands in celebration or mourning. These times of physical closeness are paramount in connecting one to another. But often we adults undermine this important and sometimes brief opportunity with words that are, at the least, unnecessary and can be detrimental to the child’s willingness and ability to communicate, verbally or non-verbally, to another person and can short-circuit their inclination to accept verbal and non-verbal communication from others. A physical presence (e.g. hugging, touching, smiling etc…) must be combined with a truly thoughtful and respectful verbal interaction to create a “place” where a child will trust and thus be open and prepared for the unexpected forces of life. When we hover over children or jump to pick them up after a stumble or put a stop to a game because a child has gotten hurt while playing it or not allow two children to argue or make promises or coerce a child out of sadness, we are showing our lack of trust. Giving children the tools of self-expression and an opportunity to truly use these tools in their interactions with others is not neglectful, but respectful.
Giving children the physical and emotional space to feel, linger with and ultimately comprehend their feelings is not neglectful, but respectful. To allow children to experience their own pain and displeasure, explore uninterrupted their circumstance and implement their own solutions may invite criticism from others but it will also deliver a human being who can fathom their own hearts, that most elusive of human abilities.
* dear old Mr. Salinger gave me permission to use this puppy himself well after his own death.
yea, I got skills.
The Bully Zone
Recently, my 8-year-old daughter told my wife and I how she had inadvertently gotten a friend in trouble at school. During recess, my daughter had walked up to a small playhouse on the playground where her friend was playing with two other girls. When my daughter asked if she could play, her friend said no, that she couldn’t and that the playhouse was for her and her friends only. Another child ran to tell the teacher. The teacher spoke not to my daughter but went directly to her friend and announced to everyone that excluding another child from her play was being “a bully”, which violated the school’s “no bully” policy. The friend was immediately taken to the office where she received an extended lecture on bullying and a behavior “referral” note to be signed by her parents and returned to school the next day. She was deposited on the office bench until recess was over. My daughter expressed to us how she felt bad for getting her friend in trouble. When I asked her if she had gotten a chance to talk to her friend during any of this, she put her hands on her hips and said, “Daddy, you know they don’t let us do that.”
And sadly, she’s right. As a district-wide policy (nation-wide?), teachers are not trained in or encouraged to allow the children to express their feelings, thoughts, and ideas when it comes to conflicts of any kind. If it were not for the serious consequences that this misguided agenda results in, the irony would be laughable. Did my daughter learn anything about how to deal with conflict? Did her friend? Was she encouraged to express her feelings about being excluded? Was anyone encouraged to find a resolution? Was her friend asked about her motivations in excluding others from her play? Was she encouraged to find a solution?
Unfortunately, the answer to all these badly-written rhetorical questions is no. No one was given a chance to grow socially, emotionally, verbally, or intellectually. No problem-solving skills were hones. No verbal muscles were exercised. No peer-to-peer connection was made. And this is the irony, the very unhappy irony for my daughter and thousands of children in the same situation.
In our attempt to snuff out “bullying”, “conflicts”, “gang activity” we have completely ignored and dismissed the one and only source that can end such negative behavior – the children themselves. How can humans grow emotionally, mentally, cognitively if the very tools they possess to promote such growth are never used. Children must have every opportunity to engage in conflicts and in the search for resolutions. Separating the children from each other and presenting them with only adult input short-circuits any opportunity for the children to, in real life situations, practice the art of debate, conflict resolution, compromise. Children and adults must be granted ample occasion to express how the action of another effects them and to hear from another how their actions are perceived. Time must be given to express anger, anxiety, disappointment with what’s happening. Time and space must be given for possible solutions to be tossed around between the children. Resolutions agreed to must be respected by the adults as valued, workable solutions. This may seem time-consuming but consider the time it takes to escort a child to the office, write a referral note and discuss with the principal the whole not-really-so-sordid-story.
Now none of us wants our child(ren) to exclude or reject other children or be excluded or rejected by other children, but we must realize that people search for and need group identity. People living in one city identify with others from the same city. Nurses identify with fellow nurses. In a restaurant full of exceptionally tall people, two very short people will identify with and probably seek each other out. Before we can ever reach our most full potential and identify only with “the human race” we must work through the complex process of social interaction and all the nuances that lurk within. Children will exclude and reject each other and be excluded and rejected. It is our responsibility as educators and parents to recognize this, discuss the strategies to aid in the children’s healthy (healthy does not exclude angry, loud, accusatory, or tearful) growth then firmly implement a policy which respects the children’s emotions and intellect, recognizes and values their investment in the relationships and provides us, teachers and parents, with direct yet open steps to provide children with real opportunities for real discussions, with real emotions and real resolutions. We must trust our children more and question ourselves even more. How much life learning do they miss when we wend them away from each other to teach them how to be with each other? What are our goals for our children’s development, particularly in their inter-personal maturation. Whether in work or play, business or pleasure, art or politics, we must each learn how to send out and receive input. We the adults can create an environment where children know they can speak openly and honestly with each other and us even if the honestly is angry or confused. We can help them to see that these are natural occurrences in human interaction and the sooner we allow them to work their verbal, cognitive, and social muscles the stronger they’ll be as life’s inevitable disagreements arise.
Student to teacher: “Teacher, Lizzie won’t let Frida play in the playhouse.”
(teacher walks up to the playhouse)
Teacher: “Hey guys, what’s up?”
Frida: “Lizzie won’t let me play in the playhouse. She says it’s just for Molly and her.”
(teacher looks towards Lizzie)
Lizzie: I just want to play in here with Molly by ourselves.”
Teacher: “Molly, what do you want to do?”
Molly: “I don’t care if they come in.”
Teacher: “Frida, Molly says she doesn’t care if you come in.”
Frida: “But Lizzie said no.”
Teacher: “Yes, she did say no.”
(teacher waits then says): “Anyone have any suggestions?”
Sally: “How about if we go away Frida?”
Frida: “But I want to play here.”
Molly: “How about if we get the house for 5 minutes then Frida and Sally have it for 5 minutes?”
Teacher: “That’s a good compromise except that recess only lasts for 4 more minutes.”
Lizzie: “How about 2 minutes each?”
The Other Girls: “Yea. OK. Ms. Miller, will you tell us when 2 minutes is up?”
Teacher: “I certainly will.”
Even with more serious conflicts such as abusive language or physical aggression, the first thing the adults should do is to bring the participants together and allow them to express verbally.
Teacher: “He hit you in the face? That must really hurt. Do you want me to bring him here so you can talk to him?”
Teacher gets Brian: “Brian, Henry want to talk to you.”
Henry: “That hurt when you hit me!”
Brian: “I hit him because he called me a dumbass.”
Teacher: “And you don’t want to be called a dumbass? Then tell Henry not to call you a dumbass.”
Brian: “Henry, don’t call me a dumbass!”
Do these scenarios not seem more educative and productive than t trip to the principal’s office where maybe the threat of adult actions will provide a short-term cooperation or submission but in the long run provide no opportunity for real discussion and resolution. Let us consider implementing a more balanced, more respectful and more efficient strategy. “No bully zone” signs in the hallway are nice, but without allowing children to use the tools they have, they are nothing more than empty clichés.
Bedtime. This may be the most heinous seven-letter word to parents of young children. The pleading. The cajoling. The warnings. The excuses. The answers to those endless, unanswerable questions. The mental push and shove. The emotional to-and-fro. My God! Just thinking about it makes me want to cut myself while listening to death metal played on a sitar by mahareshi-flung doo. The time and energy we parents spend on the nighty-night process can be huge, with what seems like few positive returns. The questions, the dilemmas are many. Should there be a set bedtime? What should be included in the whole “night time routine”? Should I put the child into bed or insist he goes himself? Should I really snore in the first minute of lying down next to them or will they know I’m full of shit? How do I respond to them when they come out o their room to tell me that their butt itches but when they scratch it it makes them hungry for pancakes? And not those little frozen discs you give him but the ones like at IHOP? Do I physically keep them in their room until they fall asleep or spin their head around like Linda Blair? (no joke here, London – my daughter- has actually done that twice, once at home and once at a Catholic delicatessen)
As you can see, there are lots of questions on the bedtime dilemma. And as you’re about to see, very few answers. As with so many things in their young lives, kiddos don’t have control over the how, when, where or why of bedtime. And not that they should. It’s up to us to create and enforce healthy, realistic bedtime expectations that will guide children’s self-understanding and self-regulation. So how does one do that? There’s lots to consider. How many hours of sleep does my child need in order to be his healthiest and happiest throughout the day? You will never know the answer to that question so round it off to ten hours a night. Will things like brushing teeth, choosing clothes, reading stories be part of the nightly routine? Once they are in their bed for the night how important is it to me that they not come out (I mean seriously, can we please have sex now?)? These and many other questions that will not be answered here because of copyright infringement are worth mulling over as you confront the beast called nighty-night time. Though of no significant value, here are a few things to consider when dealing with bedtime for Bozo.
If bedtime is 9:00, don’t start the bedtime routine at 8:00 the day before. Teeth brushing, toilet whizzing, book reading, love promising, all should last no longer than 20 minutes.
Let the small choices be theirs. Which book you read. Teeth or peeing first. Handshake or kiss goodnight. The big choices are all yours. No discussions about brushing teeth or not. Or peeing or not. Or whether you read one book or not. From the beginning, show them that some things will simply not be open for discussion or amendment. E.g. “I hear what you’re saying, you want me to stay here and read more but I’m not going to. Do you want the handshake or the kiss before I go into the living room?”
Be honest. Rather than telling your child that it would just be boring for them if they came back out with you or that you are going to bed now, just like them tell them what you’re really going to do, with no apologies. “I’m going to finish my toga exercise, then eat a small organically grown apple and finally put on my pajamas and snore like a Cossack until my alarm wakes me up” or “While you’re resting I’ll be in the next room reading my book and listening to music that doesn’t necessarily rhyme.”
Be sympathetic but firm. “It’s not ok for you to yell at me when I leave the room. I know you want me to stay, but I’m not going to. If it seems to help them remain in the room, let them know that you will come back in five minutes to give them another handshake. If they do come out of their room twenty minutes later, hug them, kiss them, call them goofball but then insist they go back themselves and you will be there after they are back in bed to kiss them again.
1) At this time in their lives they don’t have to arrive at school “ready to perform”. It’s ok for them to arrive a bit bleary and hungover from their toddler highball.
2) They take at least an hour nap at Habibi’s, so figure that into your sleep timetable.
3) It can be scary in a quiet, dark room with no one to cuddle with, so easy does it.
So there you are. Lots of fancy typing with little to say. That’s just how I roll. But really, bedtime with a young child in the house can be trying. Think about what’s important to you, your partner, discuss everything. Be flexible and never pass up a chance to tell someone “I love you”.
I love you,
Boxes Make the Best Presents
Educational toys are a big business and they have been “givin’ folks the business” for too long. Almost any material is educational to a child. So save your time, money and lots of wear and tear on your psyche: go natural. Well, Maybe not all natural but go with what’s already here. All the following materials educate as well is not better than any specially designed toy. From small motor development to language development to cognitive growth, these simple, open-ended, everyday materials will enhance them all the most importantly, your child will enjoy exploring with them.
water with bowls, funnels, brushes, food coloring
cardboard boxes of every size
clay with plastic pizza cutters, sticks, rocks
old typewriters (except for the ones you give to me)
kitchen towels, wash clothes, serving trays, spoons
seashells (hobby lobby)
old sets of keys
small and large mirrors
sand with containers and scoopers
spiral notebook with crayons
homemade sock puppets
small boxes such as shoe boxes filled with stuff, for stacking
The list could go on. Consider everything you have used in one way, and before tossing it, ask yourself if a child could explore with it safely. If yes, then let them have it and see where they take it, literally and figuratively.
Free Play For Sale
It seems that in the last few years a wave of nostalgia has washed up onto shore, the faint memories of childhood a la natural. Recent articles, editorials, and just plain public bemoanings from a variety of sources have decried the loss of free play for children.
Suddenly the importance of unstructured play in the growth, development and overall happiness of children is news. Scientific data is presented to demonstrate play’s role in brain development. Educational anecdotes are formed to demonstrate how free play benefits children academically, and finally plenty of writers speak lovingly of days gone by when children could spend hours outside, creating their own Huckleberry Finn commune of childhood in empty lots, low creeks, suburban backyards or country roads.
But the question is: is this just a lot of hot air or real winds of change? Are parents, teachers, school administrators and political leaders really hearing a message they find worth repeating? And thus, just maybe, doing something about? Has a parent cut his/her child’s scheduled activities in half? Has a pre-school teacher allowed his/her class to play in the sprinkler on a hot summer day? Has a fourth grade teacher spent science class out on the school grounds? Has a principal required that all classes receive outdoor play time over the paltry amount now allotted? Has a school district superintendent spoken out in favor of deserting the practice of assigning daily homework (does your boss hand you work as you walk out the door each day, and if so would you not slap him in the face with your letter of resignation?)?
My interest is not to make yet another case for the value of play. I have seen it for so long. And what we need now is not another nostalgic trip down baby-boomer kick-the-can land. We need the people who have power over children’s lives – parents, teachers, principals, superintendents, politicians, to change what they do, each and every day, in the lives of their children, their classrooms, their schools, their school districts. Ultimately, more free play time, at any age, benefits everyone, of all ages.
Less aggressive pre-schoolers, more attentive elementary students, higher achievement scores for school districts. These are what await us if we will only have the courage to trust our children a bit more. Are we not trying to lead our children down a path of self-discovery, rather than success, as we define it? Have we not gone to enough high school reunions to see that those who seemed on a straight line for success often veered wildly and those that wore the “born loser” stickers have a glow of joy about them? As the proverb “there’s no accounting for taste” suggests, the very definition of success if unlimited and ill-suited for packaging. So let’s not push our children but rather stand aside and let them discover what we already know – life teaches through first-hand experience, not third-person rhetoric.
The Habitian Proverbs
(the early, lost weekend years)
Sometimes words of wisdom are written in crayon.
Most of life’s lessons can be learned in a sandbox with a few friends and at least one enemy.
Kids say the darndest things … at the damndest times.
Parents of young children must realize that in their task of teaching lessons in morality and ethics they must allow the child to act immorally and unethically with them now if the child is to act morally and ethically with the rest of the world in the future.
So much of our “knowledge” is indeed 2nd-hand, overheard opinion. We must allow ourselves and our children to experience something 1st-hand before calling it “knowledge”.
As a parent, never take an “I hate you” or a “You’re the meanest mommy/daddy ever” personally. This will only lead to bloating, premature balding and that really annoying sense of eternal damnation you may have heard about at Sunday church or Monday happy hour.
A Habitian riddle: There is a group of children at a baseball field. They have bats, balls, gloves. Two parents sit on the bleachers, talking, reading the newspaper, humming songs from Saturday Night Fever. The children spend an hour playing baseball. They are the players, the umpires, the fans. The rules are theirs. The strategies are theirs. The arguments and the resolutions are theirs. The play is theirs. There is another group of children at a baseball field. They have bats, balls, gloves. Many parents sit in the bleachers, advising, ordering, cajoling and humming the “be a good sport” pledge that the children must say before each game. The game lasts an hour. The umpires are paid professionals, contrary to what the parent-fans are calling them. The coaches are adults, parents. The rules were created somewhere else, by a group of adults, experts no doubt. They are enforced by the adults. The strategies, the decisions are made almost exclusively by the adults. Which group of children has before them, within this one summer hour, opportunities to grow emotionally, socially, mentally, physically? (and if you were 8 yrs. old, which group would you rather be with?)
One-dimensional toys have feelings too
Children may bring things from home to play with as long as it meets parent approval and Habibi’s safety standards. A name on the item helps, but it should be obvious it’s not the easy way traveled here. What is the point of allowing young children to bring all this crap from their place and mix it in with all the crap we already got? Why purposely allow materials to be brought that any fool can see are going to cause a lot of problems. Problems indeed. The child’s relationship with his “things” is a romance of fierce passion and pride. This is where one of those problem things we were talking about arises. How will he handle bringing this precious cargo into the loan shark waters of pre-school? Hustlers and lobbyists abound. Palms are greased and backs expectantly scratched. How is some cute little unsuspecting toddler to handle such forces as “power ranger envy” or “I gotta have that toy syndrome”? He and every other child who comes here will deal with these psychological sparrings as they should be dealt with – directly, honestly and with a good left hook. We realize that your child may come here with never the intention of sharing anything he ever brings from home. This is fine, no child is made to share, made to feel bad if he doesn’t share or made to listen to me sing in enclosed spaces.
This said, they may have to listen to kiddos admire, ask for immediate use of, make offers for, throw tantrums about the very same toy. If they still say no to these many appeals we’ll repeat their declaration and encourage the cool toy hangers-on to disperse until another chance presents itself to bug the pinworms out of this kiddo who holds the only true toy in his sweaty and possibly non-hypoallergenic hands. Now you may wonder how these ever-repeating scenarios actually educate your children. We see it and hear it play out every day. Verbal muscles are flexed. Logical reasoning is primed. Emotional attachments are weighed. Hugely significant social interactions occur directly as a result of children bringing their own things to school. The child who brings a loved toy and experiences the unconditional support of said toy from the teachers is gaining a greater sense of autonomy, trigonometry and Latin studies. Part of him wants to share, wants the other kiddos to experience the coolness of his toy, but another part of him is afraid that his toy and only his toy is on the CIA hit list. As time passes and each interaction builds upon the one previous, the child becomes better equipped to deal with the serious questions of trust, friendship, taking risks, and duct tape. Feeling secure because no one has made him share, he is more apt to allow his things to touch other’s hands, excite other’s imaginations and inspire others to feel the same communal pull that gives rise to nice things like emotional stability, mental flexibility and not killing us. The education received by the kiddos in the shallow end of the toy pool is no less powerful and enduring though it comes with a bit more assaulted aggravation. Best bud Billy has arrived with what could only be this year’s hottest under-5 bling. A superhero who farts on command. How can a pal or even some strange kid in low-rider pampers approach this. With our help they’ll approach it as a problem to be solved. They’ll be encouraged to think about why Billy doesn’t want to share. Is he worried we’ll break it? Sincere assurances of the contrary are given no go. Maybe Billy will trade something. An offer of goldfish crackers is netted. Billy should know how much we like his superhero. How cool we think it is just like he does. The oral adulation is greeted with a begrudging respect for our taste. We “get it” Billy sees. If at last our overtures fell his resistance, the reward is much more than being #1 on the superhero play list- but that’s enough, for now. If all fail we accept the rejection slip together. Learning how to fully face rejection is a skill so precious that next fiscal year it’s tax-deductible. So much persistent heartache and emotional instability blooms from the mud of unresolved grief… whether a death. A betrayal. A rejection. If a human can be introduced to and work at honest coping skills for the not-at-all-best times of his life he will most assuredly experience more depth and breadth in all aspects of life. If you don’t want your child to bring a particular toy to school don’t let him. If your child never brings a single toy I promise I’ll get some next year at my aunt Mabel’s estate sale. (she hade the counties’ second largest denture art collection). We have materials that insist on the kiddos’ exploration, challenge and fartability. It’s not the toys they bring that provide them the “education” they need. It’s the emotional attachment to the toy that is the spark that lights the candle of this sadly clichéd sentence.
School of Hard Knocks
In our wonderfully written handbook (Dr. Kinard), we try to cover a lot of ground, ground that we stand on, fall off of and climb back onto on a good day. But now I realize that we forgot to tell you this one little thing that might concern you a bit … your child will inevitably be kicked, slapped, punched, bitten, pinched, scratched, and insulted. And that’s all before morning snack. Yippee!? Bit if we the teachers do our job, these abuses will be the impetus for children’s exploration of their minds and the minds of others.
The physical injuries are minor (yes, even that horrible looking bite mark hurts for just a while), but it’s the mind that can and will be affected by physical aggression. We try to take the children, slowly or loudly if need be, through the process of crying, talking, then maybe yelling and finally moving on … to the next episode.
But what to do when one child is mounting up quite a body count? Where is the line drawn? Must we not protect the children from these attacks?
We do indeed have a responsibility to protect our children from danger, but there is a difference between danger and the smack down that is early childhood. From the earliest ages, children will reach out and pull, poke or push at another child. It’s the way to the world.
Each of us here at Habibi’s, adults and children, have unwittingly signed up to mix our lot in life with others, without knowing much about the others or ourselves. Tough assignment. We have to navigate through this crazy human maze without any guarantees concerning the skills or motivations of those around us. Sometimes I will sit in no-move traffic because of the decision made an hour ago by someone I don’t even know the existence of. Others are affecting us every day with not the least bit of awareness of it. The children and parents and teachers of Habibi’s are no different. Our children’s paths cross the paths of many other children during the course of their Habibi’s life. Most of these meetings are friendly, some just slightly cordial, and a few are downright ugly. Now it’s the ugly ones that get the most press. “So & So slapped me. That one scratched me.” Why else do we know Brittany Spears so well?!
Sometimes, the evidence is still right there on the victim’s façade. A graffiti of teeth marks, missing hair and pinched forearms. How can children ever bloom and blossom like the flowers we try to make them out to be if they’re confronted constantly by this rampant violence? The question is, how can they not. They won’t be doing any blooming without strong roots in the ground, roots that become ensnarled within a thousand others trying to find their way in the dark, dank recess of, well, recess.
The adults of Habibi’s have and will undoubtedly continue to occasionally trip over each other, socially, emotionally speaking. Well, your children have and will also continue to trip over each other, socially, emotionally and physically. Of course, they are sometimes tripping over each other with their slapping hands or punching arms or biting teeth. It ain’t pretty and I don’t dig seeing it. But it exists and not too many folks are dealing with it –but we are. Every day, we help victims and perpetrators of violence rehab like rock stars. I mean seriously, for every pulled hair, scratched face, or bitten bicep there are a baker’s dozen of hallmark-card hugs, sonnets of undying devotion, and the enduring color of flowers blooming before our eyes that too often blink.
For the more than twelve years that I have been at Habibi’s we have tried many different approaches, techniques to assure that children’s clothes get back to you at the end of the day. Believe me, we have tried. Teacher ideas. Parent ideas. Psychic intervention. We consider ourselves reasonably intelligent and hard-working people who care not only about your children but about you as well. We want you to find the things you are looking for. Now this is not me throwing in the towel, (is it in the basket?). We shall never surrender! This is me proclaiming a simple, undeniable, if not sometimes annoying, truism of Habibi’s life: as long as we allow children from the ages of 18 months to 5 years to take off their clothes (whether to cool off, or to get painted or to go potty etc…) CLOTHES WILL BE MISPLACED. Now we believe and teach individual responsibility, accountability for your actions. And if a child carelessly tosses a shirt on the ground, we will insist they pick it up and put it away. If they soil their clothes they will help to put them in a bag and put that bag into their cubby. So, in this area, we do encourage responsibility. But we also encourage reasonable adult expectations. Children just don’t care about clothes the way we do. They didn’t pay for them, they probably didn’t pick them out. They don’t care about fashion or even presentation (yes, even the girls’ clothes exchange club members forget about their fancy threads when a different wind blows). They’re like Jerry Garcia when he said: “Fashion?! Clothes are just those things I wear to keep from getting arrested.” When a child is trying to run and jump, clothes are a hindrance. When a child is painting himself a costume clothes are a hindrance. When water spills on pants, those pants are a hindrance. When a child is trying desperately to pee or poop in a new place, clothes are a hindrance. All these things are about learning, which means, very often clothes are a hindrance to learning. So you see what we as clothes gatherers are up against. A 6 trillion dollar industry* versus… a hindrance. Tough odds, I admit, but there are a few things we can do to decrease, not eliminate, the misplaced clothing: label clothes and shoes. Every day we go through the clothes and put into cubbies the labeled clothes. In warm weather bring your child in just a diaper or underwear. Buy some clothes at goodwill or the thrift store etc… and use them as habibi’s clothes. Save grandma’s Gucci purchase for special occasions away from us. Finally, if you can’t find clothes at the end of the day and you need to go to the store, feel free to borrow some of ours, we have plenty. Never let your child not having their clothes keep you from going where you need or want to go. Because remember, to your children, “clothes are just those things I wear to keep my mom and dad from getting arrested”.
We are an outdoor school. As a teacher if you are capable of giving children more space to do what they will do you have a responsibility to do so. We also live in a mild climate. When it is hot outside we protect our skin, drink lots of water, wear very little clothing, get wet, use the shade and even make paper fans and real sprinklers to not only learn how to tolerate the heat but enjoy it. In the cold we wear layers of clothing, cover our feet and heads, find the sun, and move and engage ourselves in a myriad of ways to not just tolerate the cold but enjoy it. If the weather is cold and wet, then we stay inside because being cold and wet is a recipe for sick day. Over the years I have spoken to many pediatricians and family doctors about children and the cold weather. While no two doctors expressed their opinions in the same way, they all said some of the same things. Children who are playing outside in cold weather wearing pants and shirts are no more prone to illness than the kiddos who are stuck inside because the teachers think it’s too cold for the kiddos… or themselves. Runny noses are not always indicators of illness but rather our body’s healthy way of creating more mucus. Now sometimes when we go out in colder weather a few of the kids will recoil but we let them know that their clothing is one way to be warm and another, the most effective way, is to move, become engaged, play and you will no longer feel cold. For years, every winter, I watch and help children who might never go out in such weather learn how to go from being cold and unhappy to warm and feeling lucky to be alive on a wonderful day when he can run around like crazy and not feel overheated. Now if you ask your child “were you cold at school today” they will most definitely tell you “yes” and if you then ask them if they have an alligator in their cubby they will most definitely tell you “yes” and to any other questions you ask they will toss out a bowl full of yeses and nos. They’re kiddos. They’ll agree to about damn near anything, that’s one of the reasons they’re not allowed to date or invest in the stock market. But it’s no big task for them to go from “oh so cold” to “I’m a dragon and this is my potion and you’d better eat it if you don’t want to die.” I want your children, and my children as well, to feel not just comfortable warmth, but oppressive heat and chilling cold. To know that it is real and to know that it can be adapted to, explored in and integrated into their play and their very lives, day after day, season after season. But if we are outside and a child or two or three are just not able to become engaged and thus comfortable with their surroundings, we will have a teacher stay with them inside. Now this does no mean that every time a child says they want to go in we will take them. This means that if a child was not able to feel OK with the weather after making an effort to engage we will allow them to spend time inside, as mentioned earlier, when the air is extremely cold or when it is cold and rainy we all will play inside. On a warm, rainy day (no lightening) we will be outside, playing in puddles while my own children, and many others, are stuck inside, because “that’s what you do when it rains”. When it’s ninety-eight in the shade we’ll be outside, running in the sprinkler, telling stories in the shade, while my own children and many others will be stranded inside because “that’s what you do when it’s hot.” If over these many years we too had done things because “that’s what you do” most of you probably wouldn’t have your kiddos here and many of the teachers wouldn’t be here and the only thoughtful thing about our school would be it’s strange name.
But we haven’t been satisfied to just “go along” and I believe many of us are the richer for it. And healthier. And more willing to challenge ourselves and our surroundings either when neither is so sunny.
Amendment to Parent Handbook
It’s not often that I attach an amendment to our parent handbook. My leisure writing time has been cut drastically with the advent of cable TV. But in the spirit of our congress I would like to tag on this bit of legislation:
Early in our parent handbook we declare that at Habibi’s there is but one rule: do not hurt others or yourself. Well, we actually have about six hundred and eighty nine rules. I counted them one day with a Nike Rule-Tracker I wore on my head with little fanfare. Obviously, 689 is way more than one. So what’s the deal? False advertising? New management? I think it comes down to me and the teachers having more regard for the kiddos and thus higher expectations. I’d like to think it’s a natural evolution, though the state board of education may disagree…one Adam’s rib at a time, it seems.
Textbooks aside, the fact is that what I believe and thus practice has and will continue to change over time. I have directly experienced children defying the presumptions of myself and many a scholar. I have been privy to child behavior that many think improbable if not impossible. I have seen and heard “developmental stages” being blown to smithereens. Of course I have also heard lots of poop jokes so my ego stays well-checked. It has all gathered itself in my head and tossed a salad on my once strongly held beliefs about children and a teacher’s role in their lives. As a young teacher I was enthused, caring and devoted but it was all laced with a misguided spice born from reading too many books about too many things I knew too little about. So I have had to put in my time…not reading, not workshopping, not networking. Instead I have been really nosy in the company of kiddos day after day after diaper. I listened in on private conversations. I embedded myself in their lives. And what I have seen and heard shapes what I now hold dear.
Children are more capable than I gave them credit for, physically, emotionally, mentally, socially, even financially (I lost 50 bucks in a craps game to 2 pool room kids). Children, like adults, defy labels. We all are more than the categories we so often end up in. No thinking person is a political “conservative” or “liberal” straight down the issue line. Our life-long experiences imbue us with values, beliefs, habits that have nothing to do with political affiliation. Children too are complex. A boy who fits the rough and tumble role can also be a most sensitive listener. A girl decked out in pink and purple pin-up attire can wrestle me to tears then inquire about the scientific and mathematical properties of said tears. Children can also learn the rules of the road we travel. Not every rule and not without detoured “crabbyism” but beginning now, at the beginning of themselves, they can and should be gently yet firmly guided to the way of the world.
Is it ok for a Habibi’s kiddo to dump potions on the ground? No one’s getting hurt? My ghost-of-pre-school-teacher-past would have declared the potion toss a necessary part of the “child-as-artist development.” Today? Well, no artist worth her salt relies on her creativity alone. Discipline is the ingredient that guides creativity’s torrent…besides, I’m interested in encouraging the interpersonal skills that so many artists have lacked and thus projected into their art. I’d rather a Habibi’s reunion showcase a thousand and one well-adjusted no-names than a who’s who of 10 million tortured artists.
So in answer to the question of a child’s right to toss potions to the ground or dismiss another child’s feelings because they are busy “arting,” I say “nay.” Art does not subjugate human decency and respect. Does the child who oversteps others take warmly to my reprimand, albeit a mostly matter of fact one? Usually not, but non-injury wailings such as these rarely jerk my tears. Don’t get me wrong, I adore the child, but a good cry is second only to a good laugh in abs workout. We both laugh and cry heartily and without cynicism, and I think that’s a “health care” bill that even Rush Limbaugh and Phil Donahue can get behind…
…well, maybe not.