I read two interesting articles Tuesday night, the night I was alone in the house without kids or beau, after a therapy appointment where I talked an hour, and two phone calls, one to my sister, one to my brother, before I talked to my beau. One was a NYTimes article was about public support for preschool in the US, the other was based on a talk by Neil Gaimon in support of British libraries. Both were in support of conversation, of imagination, of exploration of the mind, alone, and between people.
Yesterday I talked with my day care colleagues and children and families. As I was washing dishes at the end of the day, one of the day care dads, who is a psychiatrist, happened to ask me about the NYTimes article, and we talked about the importance of conversation in our day care. The line he remembered from the article was about the fear that in an attempt to introduce more language to early childhood classrooms and to increase the vocabulary of young children, early childhood educators would mistake talking about flash cards for real conversation. This line triggered for him a deeper recognition about what we are doing in our family day care, where we talk freely and all day, and write midday about our day and our conversations with the children in observations shared with the families and other teachers. We then talked about the challenges he sees in his work with struggling clients who may not have grown up in environments rich in conversation, who may be struggling mightily, and about the importance of conversation and connection in healing and in making meaning in life. We went on to talk about this in the field of medicine, as office visits become less about conversation and more about charting, and in schools, where accountability takes precedence over relating, about my experience at Sudbury Valley, where the understanding that free conversation is a basic human tool for learning has created an environment with constant, intense conversations all around.
In the evening, my son and I were on our own, a rare event for us in our lives of sixteen years of family. We put away the groceries, made and ate our steak and sweet potato dinner, drank tea, ate cookies, listened to a really funny guy my son introduced me to, and talked and talked and talked. I learn a tremendous amount from talking with my son. He knows and is curious about so many things. We talk about music, about humor and comedy, about writing and reading, about love and friendship, about the day care and school, about family. Last night we talked a bit about the John Stoessel tv episode on Sudbury Valley which was recently released online. The scene my son most loved, which was invisible to me until he pointed it out, was at the picnic table outside, where his favorite new four year old sat, along with kids from what my son described as “nearly every age group” up to his old friend, who is now eighteen. I realized aloud to him how rare that scene would be at any other school, asked him how it felt to be attending the most radical school around, while also musing at how normal life there can feel, in the context not of school, but of how people chose to spend their everyday lives.
On some level it feels abusive to deny the basic needs we humans have to talk freely, to play, to walk and talk and sleep and eat. These are what humans do, what we have done since we were able. Putting small children and teens and adults in settings where these basic activities are restricted seems to me to limit our potential in devastating ways.
As I struggle with my work and personal life, I try to keep all this in mind. Sleep restores. Good food nourishes. Conversation connects and makes meaning. Love heals. Play enlivens. Walking eases the mind, and settles the soul. All these things have the power to help us learn and grow and thrive, and if we can get them right in our basic settings for living, school, child care, home, work, community, we’ll be accomplishing a whole lot. The constant question is how and why and with whom and for how long do we work in one context which seems to get it right or not and when do we move on.
Had thought I would write more, but time is up. Must wake the boy, prepare for the day, drive the carpool, see the doctor, meet an old friend for lunch, return for day care nap and wakeup time, make dinner for the kids, prepare the house and self and kids for another weekend when I will be away in Western MA with my beau, doing all the restorative walking, talking, playing, eating, sleeping I can manage, while the house I call a home is home to only the cat. Weird, yet happy life.
I’ll add links to the articles and video below. See what you think about the NYTimes and Neil Gaimon pieces and laugh at the silly stuff Jonah and I laughed about over chores and dinner last night. How nice to share a world this way, in print and video, over the internet and in real life, whatever that distinction means at this point in time.