Sunday, 30 October 2011

Revisiting our hands...

Recently, I have been struck with this thought of how quickly we learn, and how quickly we forget. Parenting is a wonderful journey, and every day we learn from our children. Every day, every moment even, we discover something about them, and something about ourselves, if we're open to it. But recently I have been thinking about all those thing we felt were very important in the beginning. All those things we felt strongly about. And how, with time, some of them have slipped away... so this week I have been trying hard to remember those first few weeks and what they taught us. One of the first things that came to mind was my hands.

Getting to know each other is of course mutual. As we get to know the child, he begins to know us, and this happens through our hands. Hands constitute the first relationship for the baby with world beyond breastfeeding. Hands pick him up, lay him down, wash, dress and feed him... What difference it makes when gentle, patient and peaceful hands, which also convey safety and clarity, take care of him. How different the world seems if these hands are impatient, rough, hasty, restless and nervous. In the beginning hands are everything for the infant. They are the person, the world... (Dr. Emmi Pikler, 'Peaceful Babies - Contented Mothers')

Our first few weeks were all about connection, relationship, getting to know Antek, and letting him get used to the world to which he was so new. We were very aware of our hands, of the way we touched, dressed, changed and hugged him. Our hands were his world, just like he was our world. We made sure to slow down, stop for a moment before touching him, let our hands be as respectful and loving as we were towards him. Slowly, with time, he became more aware of other things, our hands became one of the many connections with the world. He became more aware of other sensations, other senses. We still paid attention to being careful and respectful. But slowly, with time, I seem to have lost track of my hands. They became just hands - those tools for picking up, hugging, dressing, changing.

As I was thinking about those first few weeks of our parenting journey, I came across Katrina Kenisson's piece about touch. And I realised that I lost track of my hands, of the powerful message they are sending. That I lost track of the power of touch. I can really understand her, when she says: 'we are a hands-off culture, and to reach out in this way, human to human, hands to body, almost always means crossing some kind of barrier. We may feel free to talk about anything, but to lay our hands on another person is not something most of us do regularly or casually.' Though I come from a slightly different culture perhaps. I often hug my friends, kiss them. I like to touch the person I am talking to. I believe our bodies need the connection too, not just our minds.

So much recent research talks about the importance of touch for such physical things as development, growth and weight, but also for such emotional things as happiness and attachment. All people need to be held, hugged, kissed. But while we talk about touch and its importance when it comes to caring for infants, we sometimes forget that it is also about the quality of that touch. That our hands might be sending a powerful message. That it is different to be holding a baby while watching TV or reading a book, and to be holding a baby with fully attentive hands. Magda Gerber says we should 'unbusy our minds' when we are around children. I think we should also 'unbusy' our hands - from everything they are doing, everything they will be doing, those things they should be doing or that they have done. And just like trying to be fully there with our minds, giving children our undivided attention, maybe it's also worth fully giving them our hands when we touch them...

As I woke up this morning, I heard Antek waking up in his bed. Before I went to pick him up I stopped for a moment. I though about my hands, and remembered how Maureen Perry talked about touching babies, during our training. I thought of how I love Antek's little hands when he suddenly runs to hug me out of nowhere; how I love Pawel's strong touch when we walk holding hands; my Dad's hand on my hair when he talked to me; my Mum's hand on my forehead when I was sick; my Brother's strong hug. I shook my hands a bit to get rid of the sleepiness and leftover dreams.

When I finally got out of bed and went to pick up Antek, my mind and my hands were ready. Just like when I touched him for the first time. After all, every morning is a new beginning...

[Photo with thanks to Mary Sadowska]

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Lessons from the box of crayons

"... Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of the river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point." (Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude)

Imagine this is your world. The world of great unknowns, of all the magical things, of all these possibilities for discovery. Imagine nobody is telling you what to do with what, what will 'work best', or 'be easier this way', or that 'it should be done this way'. This is, I want to believe, what all artists and scientists do daily - discover; explore; wonder; test; hypothesize; try again and again... and this is what we admire them for.

Recently Pawel bought Antek a box of lovely beeswax crayons. The boys then came home, Pawel showed Antek what was in the box, and put the crayons with his other toys. Where they happily stayed, forgotten, for the next three days. Now, weeks later, the crayons have been around for a while, Antek takes them out now and again and uses them quite a lot in his play. He has not drawn a single dot or line. In our house, crayons are not for drawing. Not right now, at least. What are they for? Now, did you know that:

1. Crayons roll when thrown on the ground.
2. Crayons roll faster when thrown on the ground, than when placed carefully and pushed lightly.
3. Crayons roll faster and in one direction when put on the ground and pushed hard
4. When thrown, crayons may roll fast, but not always in the direction intended (this may also result in lost crayons, misplaced crayons, wet and dirty crayons)
5. Rolling rocks (sic!)
6. Crayons looks lovely when put on the floor, but much more impressive when put on a box, one next to the other (the effects often produce applause)
7. Crayons make a very good sound when you bang them on the floor
8. Crayons make an excellent sound when you bang them on the fridge door
9. The sound when crayons are banged on the pillow is not exciting at all
10. Some crayons float
11. Crayons are not delicious
12. Pink and red crayons look lovely when put  next to herbs in the garden
13. Blue crayons not so much
14. Crayons don't really fit into the box they came in. No matter how you try. (They do fit in the bowl though, perfectly)
15. The cat in the garden is not happy when crayons fly in his general direction

When I told a friend we will not really be 'teaching' Antek what crayons (and other things) are for, she was surprised. 'It's like trying to break in, when the door is wide open' she said. 'He will learn to draw eventually anyway.' Sure he will. The important point though for us is - HE will LEARN. WE won't TEACH him. And also - when he's ready he will. And I want to be there to see the smile on his face when he finally DISCOVERS that crayons make colourful marks on things (and I will make sure to do what my Mum did - cover the walls within Antek's reach with paper).

Be careful what you teach. It might interfere with what they are learning.  (Magda Gerber)

There are oodles of recent studies that have demonstrated, over and over again that children are more creative, more involved and more persistent when allowed to EXPLORE toys without instructions, than when told what to do with them. We see it daily.

In our house, now is not the time for drawing. Now is the time for rolling, throwing, pushing and pulling. The time for drawing will come. But in the meantime, its a lot of other learning that is going on.

When you teach a child something you take away forever his chance of discovering it for himself. (Jean Piaget)

In all of this crayon business, I can't help but admire how creative and resourceful our son is. How much he is like a scientist or an artist, or both, in his explorations - in experimenting, discovering, hypothesizing, testing...

We admire creative thinkers. We admire their ability to think outside the box; to put old things to new uses; to come up with innovative solutions. We are amazed how some people are ahead of their times in their view of the world. We want our children to be all these things in the future... why not let them start now?

[somewhat related, very thoughtful and wonderful posts from Janet Lansbury and Teacher Tom]