I’m a fairly recent parent. Our first born daughter is nearly 3. I’m a fairly seasoned learner. I have a file-a-fax with a couple of degrees, a post grad, certificates and body and heart imprints of various workshops, seminars, teachings, hui.
For many different reasons I’ve been thinking about how or what our daughter is learning, what skills I value and prioritise, and from where or whom the teaching is being given.
I am interested in the Playcentre notion of ‘valuing and affirming parents as the first and best educators of their children’. Psychologists are talking about the crux of my intrigue – ‘the model is imperative’. Guess who’s the model? I heard it from Ngaire Hoben (a teacher who taught me to teach English). She distilled it from Nigel Latta. And here it is highlighted on page 67 and 68 of Pennie Brownlee’s Dance with me the Heart:
It’s not what you teach your babies that counts, it is how you are with them. As Joseph Chilton Pearson: “We tell children how to be and they keep mirroring back what we are”. Children less than six years old learn by observation; effortlessly they download the example of who you are, how you behave and interact with them, and with others. These programs are all imprinted into the subconscious at four billion bits per second. This raises big questions for us as parents, questions about ourselves and our behaviour. Is this the behaviour I want my baby to imprint?
I hear this when our 3 year old mothers her baby sister, borrowing my language, parroting my tone and melody exactly: ‘I’m here, Mummy is coming. I’m here. You’re upset?’ Or when I challenge her about the fact she ‘borrowed’ my engagement ring and put it in her ‘pretties’ bag next to her technicolour beads and she bats back a stern reminder, ‘you shouldn’t touch my bag Mummy’. Ah yes, that curt morning squawk, that my handbag and its random contents which feature those lollipop lipsticks, eye-stinging perfumes, breath refreshers, and prescription sunglasses are, off limits.
I am enthralled at how quickly and with how much faith children learn. Our daughter mimics words with endearing trust. She memorises whole songs without understanding all the vocab ‘rellies shout gidday’. She goes with my attempts to add other language into the mix and sings ‘underneath the pohutakawa tree…haere ra. Frere Jaques, dormez vous’. She is so open, so forgiving, has so much energy and will to learn and explore without boundary – what a beauty. Oh to have that much faith and presence inherently.
I am equally interested in my own self-focused learning. I love inquiry, progressing. I’m currently learning to cook curries, trying on NVC (non-violent or compassionate communication), giving crochet a go, and experimenting with my DSLR on manual.
I’ve started to watch as some of my parental contemporaries are getting excited about their childrens’ learning possibilities. They’ve signed up for swimming lessons, mainly music, dance, playgroup, gym-tots, wriggles and rhyme, gyminis and go religiously each week, each term. Memories fall back to my childhood where at its peak I only had Sunday free of some after-school activity or ‘discipline’.
We all want the best for our children – Ngaire Hoben said this too.
I can get a little woozy with all the explanations as to why we want to give our children all these opportunities that ‘after-school’ activities provide:
a chance to have fun
interests (outside of school) keep them busy and out of trouble
kids are like sponges i.e. make the most of the ease and speed of learning something as complex as music or a second language now
expose them to all sorts of things
I always wanted to learn…
it’s good to commit to something (a team sport perhaps)
It’s good for them to work towards a goal and to persevere e.g. a dance exam
they’ve shown an interest
their friend has shown as interest
kids need to learn discipline
it’s good to keep them active
it’s good for their confidence (e.g. drama or martial arts)
it’s good for their co-ordination
teenagers stay on the right-track if they are not idle and have other interests and hobbies (other than just school)
I wanna give them the greatest start (or headstart) in life
I want to give them everything I can
Do we (as parents) not feel we can give them or teach them ‘enough’?
Do we actually want to teach them, keep them occupied, creative, active, confident, disciplined?
Perhaps a parent (or two, or three or four – as some of us have) are in fact not enough for our children? Or is the role of the parent/teacher/model too much for one Mum and Dad, or one Mum and one Dad or one Mum and Mum. Does it take a village to raise a child?
But I defer.
I find it provocative to tally:
How much money we spend on our childrens’ education? How much time we spend taking them to these lessons, waiting for them, encouraging them to commit/practice…
It’s true as a child I learnt valuable inter-personal and intra-personal skills through after school activities which I wouldn’t have learnt elsewhere. The activities I was encouraged (heavily) to commit to, gave me a broader literacy for life. Music became another language, an alternative outlet for expression. Howard Gardener’s world of multiple intelligences opened up and I developed some sense of musical, spatial and kinesthetic intelligence.
Is the intention of all this ‘out-of-school learning’ to foster a genuine life-long love of learning? To invite the art of learning, which requires learning to do, to create, to participate, to trust, to share, to commit, to persevere. And fingers-crossed some teachers, ‘disciplines’ or environments allow us to play, to laugh, to have fun, to explore, to experiment, to risk, to celebrate failure, to find resilience, to develop confidence.
And here I get to my point (phew). While we are so ready, willing and able to give what money, energy and time to deliver our children to extra-curricular activities how ready, willing and able are we to deliver ourselves to an activity which:
keeps us out of trouble
is something we’re interested in, or our friend is interested in
keeps us active
encourages us to commit to something or have a daily practice
beckons us to progress
makes us happy
No matter what our reason for sending our children to these activities, whatever benefit we imagine them to be gaining, surely we could gain that for ourselves, and our children would reap the benefits of our ‘happiness’.
The parent is the first teacher, who we be and what we do is what our children observe and absorb. How do we value our body, our mind, our heart or soul? What are our children learning from what they see we be?
Does ‘we want the best for our children’ translate as we want them to experience happiness and to perhaps express and share it. If we are the model, if happiness, expression and sharing is what we value for our children, then we have to manifest this ourselves, for our selves.
Now, I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m hammering nurture over nature, because I’m a believer that we’re made up of it all; the personality or soul we are born with; the gifts of our ancestors; the environment we grow in; the response to our teachers – those friends, extended family, adults, ‘enemies’; the country we’re born into; and perhaps even the season and year we arrive with? And I wouldn’t want any of us feeling anymore added guilt or heavy responsibility (than we already do) in regards to the choices we make with parenting and being and how that affects our little cherubs and their psychology and lives.
And, I’m not sure that my own love of learning or questioning was something which was modeled by my parents (particularly in those formative years). Although, as an aside, my Dad loves reading and the National Programme accompanies his working day. And, my Mum probably left Louise Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life on the shelf for me to find, has returned to University for stints and is always excited and broadcasting about something or someone who is teaching her something wonderful. But good food, home-cooking from scratch, the intention of good manners, enjoying people, fine clothes, an aesthetic for the home, a solid work ethic, an adventurous spirit and the pursuit of happiness ripple through my sisters and I.
I have been watching as Mums I know eagerly sign up to courses that feed back into their parenting e.g. a mindful mums course which includes meditation. If it feeds our tamariki we’re in. I invite us to consider what feeds our mama and papa souls feeds les enfants.
About a year ago I PM-ed a dear dear friend and teacher Tom McCrory and confessed I was feeling guilty about taking delight in blogging. Perhaps I should get down on the floor and seize the moment to observe, observe, observe (Magda Gerber) my baby play. I puzzled, I don’t feel guilty when I hang out the washing or cook the dinner instead of being prostrate with the baby inquiry. He said ‘stop it right now’. I thought he meant the blog, I spiraled. ‘Stop feeling guilty and blog your arse off. Do the things you love and your children will watch you loving life – illuminated, in-joy, enraptured.’ Paraphrasing now: What a great teacher you will be to them – living a joyful, creative, expressed life. ‘Do what you love and involve them in it, [whilst other times] do what they love and involve yourself in it’.
In the past year some of the learning opportunities I’ve taken advantage of are: Inspiring Stories film workshop, knitting and crochet get-togethers, Lotus and Pony ‘Opening Up’ event, Pennie Brownlee courses, meditation groups, tai chi, yoga nidra.
I love attending workshops, lectures, teachings, events because I can be happy:
having fun and doing something different from everyday repetitive jobs
meeting like-minded people who have similar passions
sharing with or listening to these people which makes me feel more connected and not alone
reminding me to have faith in humanity rather than believe the news(papers)
advancing my skills (learning a new stitch, move, posture, philosophy, recipe, technique)
exchanging energy with the others present and getting that buzz of generating and expanding ideas together
remaining agile by exercising and challenging my body and my mind
Depending on the course I often come away with a paradoxically warm yet refreshed feeling. Sometimes, I feel cared for and nourished. Other times, I feel grateful for the opportunity to have fun, to be smiling, to be devouring delicious food and to be present. I return to my family and home a ‘new’ woman, like I’ve ingested a beautiful elixir that makes me see again, feel, hear and cherish all that is with me.
This post is a plug. Go forth. Get out there. Learn and participate Mamas and Papas – Adults. May the force be with you.