(This was written in February of 2006 as a parent letter to my kindergarten families. It was originally sent out in two parts.)
Lately, I’ve been getting a number of articles sent to me that talk about the proliferation of marketing that targets young children, the lack of play time in our society, and our dependence on entertainment - television, movies, computers, and computer games.
The world is changing so fast now that none of us can really and truly comprehend these changes. At my son’s college (Beloit College in Wisconsin), Professor Art Robson comes up with the Freshman “Mindset List” each year, just to help the parents and faculty to realize how different our children’s lives are now from when we grew up. I thought it might be helpful for us to take a moment to realize just how dramatically the world has changed for our children, so I have attempted to create my own list:
The children in our kindergarten were born in 1999 or later.
They have never known life without a remote control.
DVD players, VCR’s, Game boys, Computers, and Television are part of most households.
They have never known life without the Internet!
A mouse is usually connected to a computer, not running around the kitchen.
Many were born after 9/11 and so our country has always had a “patriot act” and has been fighting terrorism around the world. Airport security has always been very tight. George Bush has always been president.
News is available on television round the clock.
Children have play dates.
Health food is bought at a special store, not grown.
They have always known digital cameras and small video cameras.
They have never known life without cell phones.
Movies have always been available to be seen at home.
It is almost expected that even young children go to the movie theater to see movies.
What do you remember about when you were growing up?
I am 48 years old. I remember:
Not having a television until I was 8 or 9 years old - then we had one channel - black and white.
We played all day in the fields around our house with the neighbor children.
We ate radish sandwiches with the radishes we pulled from our garden.
We knocked on our friend’s front door, then opened it up and shouted, “Yoo-hoo”.
We spent hours playing “Mother, May I”, “Red Rover”, and other traditional games with the many children in our neighborhood, without an adult directing us.
The first movie I saw in a theater was when I was 10 years old - The Gnome-Mobile.
Before that we went to the drive-in. The adults watched the movie and the kids played at the playground.
The first Batman TV show with Adam West and Burt Ward was very controversial even for 10 to 12 year olds because of the “violence”.
TV couples had twin beds in their bedroom.
I knew nothing of the news until President Kennedy was assassinated and a man walked on the moon.
I also know that my parents:
Never had indoor plumbing while growing up.
My grandmother baked her own bread, churned all her own butter, made pickles, canned food, and made beer. And she prepared the rabbits and frogs that the boys caught for dinner.
My grandparents moved from Missouri to Colorado with 8 children, in horse drawn wagons.
My grandfather harvested farm crops with a horse drawn combine.
My mother walked to her one room schoolhouse and took time off to help with harvesting.
They had a washing machine that had to be cranked by hand, and then the clothes put through the ringer, and hung up on the clothesline. (My husband grew up with this as well!)
The kitchen garden was not a luxury but was depended on to provide the vegetables for the whole year.
My mother played with paper dolls cut out from old catalogs and with the many farm kittens.
My father got into more mischief than I want to imagine - he had three brothers!
The Ice Man came down the block with ice for the icebox.
Grampa or one of the boys shoveled coal into the furnace.
Chores came first, out of necessity, before schoolwork. My mother’s family worked a large wheat farm in northeastern Colorado and my father’s family had a fruit orchard in Ohio.
There were just 66 years between the first airplane flight of the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk and Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon.
The Internet did not become readily available to all of us until around 1995. Until then, the government held most of the control over the internet. AOL and CompuServe began in 1995. Not many homes had computers before that time. Eleven years ago, it was a rarity. Now it is considered a necessity.
When I started teaching in 1979, at a BOCES school that served the most disabled children (academically, physically, and behaviorally), we had only one child on Ritalin. It was so controversial among the teachers to be almost scandalous. One source I found estimated that 15 to 20 percent of all school children were on Ritalin in 1996.
Please bear in mind that I would not want to go back in time to when we didn’t have any of the modern conveniences - I love my washing machine, my digital camera, and being able to send email. But it is important for us to stop from time to time and acknowledge how different the world is now and that it is changing exponentially at a rate that we cannot comprehend. How we respond to this will make the difference to our children and our future:
“…we, insofar as we have power over the world and over one another, we must learn to do what the leaf and the whale and the wind do of their own nature. We must learn to keep the balance. Having intelligence, we must not act in ignorance. Having choice, we must not act without responsibility.”
Ursula K. LeGuin The Farthest Shore
Being Mindful of the Present Moment - part 2
Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience.
It isn't more complicated than that.
It is opening to or receiving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is, without either clinging to it or rejecting it.
The other morning, I must have asked my daughter to hurry up at least 10 times before we finally made it out to the car to go to school. In frustration, I said to her, “I wish you could get ready quicker. I don’t like to rush.” She replied in a twelve-year-old huff, “Right, Mom. You do it all the time.” Like the good Waldorf teacher and experienced Mom that I am, I responded with patience and grace, “YEAH - WELL I STILL DON’T LIKE IT”. Okay, well…some part of me said quietly that I could have handled that one differently.
It seems that our lives are constantly in one rush or another. Perhaps as our world is changing at such speed, we are unconsciously trying to keep up. Whatever it is, it has become harder and harder to find ways to slow down and live in the present moment.
Michael Mendizza speaks about the “Power of Now”. This he describes as the “state” of relationship with the world, moment by moment. What we retain from an experience and how we learn depends on the state we are in when we experience it.
My son, John, is interning as a kindergarten assistant as a small school (not Waldorf) in urban Albany, NY. One night he called, very excited, and couldn’t wait to tell me his experiences of the week. He said, “Mom, I’ve started knitting again at the faculty meetings and I decided that I would also take my knitting into the kindergarten. It was incredible! The children came to see what I was doing and to feel the knitting, but most of all, they were just more settled. I think that since I was able to create a space around me where I could focus and do my work, they were also more able to create their own space for play!” You got it, kid!! This is very much what we mean when we say that we “work out of imitation” in the kindergarten. It’s not so much the activity that they are imitating, but the “state” we are in with our work. We create the opportunity for the children to see us having a relationship to the world, moment by moment, NOW! If we are hurried and strained or at loose ends, they will also be hurried, strained and at loose ends. If we are calm and focused, they are also more apt to be calm and focused. And which is the more optimum “state” for learning?
I don’t like to hurry. Or do I? There’s a nice little adrenalin rush that comes when you are stressed and hurried. You can suddenly feel a little more energetic and awake than you were. Are we becoming addicted to that feeling as we can become addicted to having our cup of coffee in the morning?
What can I do to slow my life down and create a space where my family and I are not hurried?
I have a few things on my to-do list:
Make sure I actually drink my full cup of tea instead of hurrying around, putting the tea mug down and forgetting about it. (I’ve been teased about this for years)
Get things ready for school for myself and Emma, the night before so there is not so much to do in the morning.
Eat real meals, including breakfast. Sit down with my family, light a candle, and take time to be with my family while we eat slowly.
Go to bed earlier.
Spend less time on the computer and telephone. (I don’t watch much TV anyway!)
Savor my daily household chores. (This isn’t an easy one for me. Cooking I can savor, washing dishes is fine, but cleaning the bathroom?) When I begin to appreciate the doing - in the NOW - of even the less pleasant chores, maybe my daughter will begin to appreciate this, too.
Take time for my own artistic work. Make sure that I am a creator and not just a consumer. This is not difficult for me, but everyone can be creators and it is such a gift to show the children that they can be creators, too.
And listen to others with genuine interest.
My teacher/mentor in this area is an old school friend who is now severely disabled. I spend an hour each week with him and during our visit, time stands still. We talk and tease and sometimes just sit together. His speech is labored, quiet, and slow. When I first started visiting him, I would strain to see the person I once knew and to understand what he was saying. After a time, I finally learned (he is a very patient teacher) to relax and just be present to him. When I could accomplish this, I found it was much easier to understand him and suddenly I was seeing little things that would remind me of the person I had known since we were both in 6th grade! Now my goal is to try to learn to listen to others in the same way.
It is possible to learn to be mindful of the present moment. Even if the world is changing at incredible speed, we can learn to slow down and be present to each other and the world, moment by moment, NOW!
The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he's always doing both.
Zen Buddhist Quote