Sunday, August 20, 2017

Look Ma, No Hands!!: Sharing Ourselves with Our Children

Whenever I took my kids to a playground or park or even just sat outside while they played, they inevitably and constantly called, "Watch me!  Mom, watch me!!".  I would look once or twice and then get annoyed.  "Just play!  Why is it only fun if I watch?".

Well, because mostly it is.  Kids are often more engaged in play when adults join them.  I learned that when I was 19  and worked the summer as a Recreation Leader in a public park about a block from my home.  The city supplied me with crafts materials for the kids; lanyard, crepe paper, markers, etc.  But unless I joined them in crafting something, very few children were interested.  That went for games too.  They were much more likely to play kickball or duck-duck-goose if I played too.

As an early childhood educator, I learned to deeply appreciate this child-quality.  I found it to be an innate mechanism children employ to acquire skills and values.  Children, like everyone else, want to be noticed, to be heard.  They want to know that we value whatever it is that they may care about.  They will look to loving adults to confirm that "Yes, you're a good climber; yes, that bug is fascinating; yes, you can jump really high".  Our confirmation makes it true.

When we in turn share our passions and interests with children, and actually live the values we profess to care about, we can profoundly shape their understanding of the world and even help to build their character. We don't have to tell our children what's important to us.  They know since infancy what we value, by our actions, our tone of voice, our body language.  Long before they can speak, our babies are watching us carefully, and learning.  My grandfather, who smoked at least a pack a day until he died at age 80, used to say, "Do what I say, not what I do".  Sorry grandpa, that didn't work.  I smoked cigarettes for 13 years.  The opposite of that refrain is actually true:  children learn from what we do and who we are, not from what we say.  

A few months ago some of my high school students and I were discussing the qualities they felt made a good teacher.  The consensus was, 'someone who loves sharing his/her passion'.  Think about your favorite teacher(s).  I'll bet he/she was enthusiastic about the subject matter and cared a lot about the students with whom he/she shared it.

So, I make an effort to put down my book or crossword puzzle and play with my grandchildren.  And  when something cool snags my interest, I'll call them over and say "Hey, take a look at this!".

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