When I was little I remember sitting in my parents' garden after we'd spent that first full day of spring getting all the baby seedlings in the ground. I would plant myself next to a tiny twig of a tomato and watch it as hard as I could. And I would tell my father that I saw it grow. Today I believe I can't see a plant grow and I am sad that I have lost that ability, but I am trying to learn the skill again.
I have the glorious opportunity afforded to parents and teachers alike - to see growth happen right before my eyes in the ongoing evolution of my child.
When he was 8-months old my son crawled into the living room and tried to eat the sunspots off the carpet. Last week he carried an empty bowl upstairs, filled it with his toys, and tried to feed them to our dog. Today he figured out how to get himself onto the top of a slide and invented four different ways to slide down.
I used to think kids learned everything from the adults in their lives, but today I am changing my thinking. Today I think adults learn a great deal from kids, and when protected from danger but left to their own devices, kids do a huge amount of their learning all by themselves. To go from a totally dependent newborn 13 months ago to someone who knows what interests him, where he wants to go, how he wants to get there, who he wants to "talk" to, what he wants to eat, ... at this rate I suspect that there is no stopping his quest for self actualization. And why would I want to?
But then I consider what will happen in a few years when he enters the box called school. Suddenly there will be a time and place for climbing under beds and studying cobwebs. There will be seats to sit in for longer than you want to. Papers that require you to stay inside the lines. Separate categories for "real" and "imaginary". One "right way" to get down a slide.
Of course there will also be whole worlds opened up to him through the ability to read. He will discover the power of numbers in the space of they day where he once discovered bugs and weeds. And the study of science, social studies, art, and music will expand his imaginary world beyond things he's actually experienced and into things that he never thought of before.
But on that journey I know most of us lose the ability to taste the sun or to see a slide as more than something you get down feet first. I am wondering if maybe that ability is precisely what we really need as adults to imagine our way out of some of the inexplicable situations into which we get ourselves.
Keith Johnstone calls adults "atrophied children." When something atrophies, it wastes away due to neglect. When you consider what happens in most school settings it is easy to see how this process begins and why we get to this sad place where we forget how to play and imagine as adults.
It is the great fortune of teachers, parents, and people who choose to be influenced by children that we do not have to forget this skill entirely. The more we open ourselves to letting kids be kids, and allowing them to do their own kind of growing and not just the growing we want them to do - the more we build the muscles of our inner atrophied children.
Today I went down the slide with my son... albiet the "right way." A 3-year-old nearby looked up at us and told me "hey, you're too big to be on that slide." And I looked back at him and said, "No I'm not."