Children have the right to participate in profound conversations.
I am sitting with my tea. Sipping in the warm liquid, expressing my gratitude about children and all they teach me about the world. I have to admit I am enamored by them. They have a curiosity about the world that as adults many of us no longer possess, appreciate, or take the time to think about. They learn through doing, make meaning from experiences, mistakes and conversations, and construct their perception of the world from the people who surround them. There is no greater celebration than witnessing a child learn something new and own the information about the newness of that discovery. I admire their enthusiasm, courage, honestly, their gentle hearts, and their unending ability to surprise me. But what I find most magnificent about my job on a daily basis is how we have embraced children's rights to participate in profound conversations. So as you read my thoughts about this, think about enjoying sips of tea. Think about letting the words steep into your conscience.
I am a lucky teacher. I literally have more conversations with three and four year olds about what it means to be living than I ever have with adults. Adults are uncomfortable with "big" questions, imaginary circumstances, or conversations about abstract concepts where we just get to let our imagination wander into the impossible. I, on the other hand, get to talk to open minded people all the time about where rainbows go at night, the journey our food took to become part of our snack, why the sky can hold so many colors, and what it means to be a good friend. We talk about things that typically makes adults uncomfortable like why we collect food so we can share it with other children that don't have enough. We inspect our skin color and give them names like "speckled coffee" and "peachy tan." We describe our feelings when we are hurt, "You aren't listening to my words. I am needing space from you because you are ignoring me and I don't feel like playing." We talk about what food unicorns prefer, and who Superheroes talk to when they have a problem with their friend. I have these conversations daily and they are often my magnified moments I steep my gratitude tea with at the end of the day. So if you haven't had any gratitude tea today, and would like a sip of mine, here is a story from a few weeks ago...
One day for snack time, I brought in my "Cold Mountain Soundtrack" and picked out three songs that made me feel peaceful. One song had just a fiddle, one song had just a piano, and the other song was orchestral. Not only did we listen to the songs, but we had a deep and profound conversation about them. One of my three year old boys commented on the first song while eating a crunchy pita chip, "This fiddle is fast.[pause. crunch. munch] It makes my heart happy. [crunch] It's not too fast but fast enough to make my heart beat harder."
When the piano song came on children then reflected about the impact the different instrument had on their experience. A girl shared, "This is slower. Lighter. Like her fingers are dancing so light on the whites." Her partner to the right added, "Like a bubble floats in the sky before it pops." Another boy quietly shared, "I tink my mum wud like dis one." Many others agreed their moms would too.
The third song came on. I let them know it was orchestral, meaning they would hear many instruments playing together. I teared up as I listened to them:
"Its like they are playing. They are friends playing together."
"They play together and then take turns. We take turns too."
"Ummm. [deep breath] I can close my eyes to this one."
And then, my friend with the happy fiddle heart brought it all together by reflecting, "All these songs you played. They were different. But they all made me feel peaceful." And it ended with the collective sigh.
so....take a sip of that. Have you had conversations like that? When is the last time you engaged in an exchange that helped you think so deeply about feeling peace? When is the last time you were in a group, enjoying a meal, taking turns sharing your insights about how the music makes you feel, what you think about when you listen, and poetically describe your experience with it (knowing others won't judge your comment). My guess is rarely.
That doesn't need to continue. You can have these moments too because all children can have these conversations. They need these conversations and have the right to these conversations. The trick is, teachers, parents, babysitters, and family friends rarely think about intentionally setting a stage for them to happen. We are too busy. We try to correct the information. We try to be the experts. We interrupt them to give them expert information. But what if they are the experts? Take a moment to steep that thought in your tea while I share another moment with you...
Last weekend my niece Miley and two nephews David and Nate took a road trip to visit their Uncle Mike and Aunty Britt in RI. I took them to a short trail in North Kingstown, where at the end of a mile walk in the woods, the trail opens up to the bay. It was something I was looking forward to for weeks; spending time in nature with my family, a beautiful morning by the ocean, and having special moments with them discovering "wishing rocks" and stacking rocks. The rocky beach provided endless rock tossing possibilities for all of us. There is something truly calming and peaceful about watching the effect of a rock land in the water.
For my nephew Nate, he was interested in the changes of sound as he experimented throwing different sized rocks, and varying amounts of them into the ocean. We began talking and describing the changes, "The tiny pebbles sound like a fizzle. They all hit together but at a little bit different times and it sounds like when you cook and there is that sizzle sound." My heart swelled listening to his observations and sharing the moment with him. The bigger rocks "clunked" and splashed when they hit. "Its so heavy that it hits the bottom the quickest but the water doesn't have time to finish splashing so the sounds happen at the same time." I think, 'He is so observant. And gentle. And kind hearted. I love this moment so much.'
So we continue along the beach, crossing the peninsula to the other side where the water is pouring into the bay with speed. Nate asks me, "Aunty Britt? What is that?" He points to a rock close to the shore where the water is spilling over, quickly cascading and creating ripples into the water to travel to the bay. I tell him, "That is the current. Do you see the rock? It is changing where the water is moving. It all wants to move toward the ocean. It knows where to go." We watched for a few moments and then he asked, "Aunty Britt? Is the current alive?" I turned to look at him. My face was smiling, gentle. I answered, "That is a really interesting question. Can you tell me more about your thinking?" He went on to describe, "Well the water moves. It has different speeds and this space is running. And then it knows when to slow down because everything around it helps it to know where to go." What a beautiful moment. I immediately thanked the universe for letting me participate in this conversation with him. I didn't need to correct him. I didn't need to go into a "spiel" on why it was incorrect. I was just grateful to hear him make such vast connections to his observation about the moving current and being alive. How often have you heard of life being compared to an oceans tide? How many poems and songs have been written about a similar observation? And it was all because I knew that we could have that conversation together. A profound conversation about observing life.
So, I hope you let some of these conversations steep into your tea tonight. I hope you are able to think of a recent conversation that was profound with a loved one. I hope you add it to your gratitude tea tonight and that you drink it knowing that you can refill this anytime. Profound conversations can happen all of the time. At any age. And the youngest often have the best insights.
Brittany Courchesne is an early childhood educator, teacher mentor to teachers in training, public speaker, and blogger.