Monday, July 13, 2009

The Art of Being a Child – How Quickly We Forget.

I just shared the last two weeks with an incredible group of educators in the 14th Annual Inspired Teaching Institute. As with every year, this program brings us the best and the brightest of DC’s passionate educators and by the end of the summer session we all emerge changed for the better. What struck me this year was the recurring theme amongst participants that the summer experience “reminded them of what it was like to be a child.”

That has always been the first step in our training process for educators, but it was eye opening to be part of the rediscovery process. On the first day our activities feel uncomfortable. Running around with a magic scarf, singing, sitting in a circle, making sculptures with our bodies – all these things feel so foreign and as adults we are very self conscious in such seemingly new experiences.

The irony, of course, is that we are doing with great difficulty the very things we did so easily as children. We “know” how to imagine a red ball without seeing it. We “know” how to play a game. But we’ve boxed away our ability to do these things freely because these are the “idle pleasures” of youth and have no place in the seriousness of being an adult.

I could make the argument that every single adult profession would be enhanced by a greater connection to the pleasures of childhood. Simply putting the muscles of our imagination through regular exercise would make scientists better experimenters, fighter pilots quicker problem solvers, and lawyers more innovative arguers on the courtroom floor. If these professional shirk a connection to their inner children, their potential suffers but probably not much else.

However, as teachers I think we can actually do harm to students if we let ourselves get too far from what it means to be a child. At the very least we stunt their growth.

In any profession the most successful practitioners are those who know their material intimately. As teachers our “material” is both the content we uncover, and the children we teach. So how can you know a child without reconnecting with what it means to be one?

I’d say you can’t. So where to start? Pull from the storehouses of your own memory. Talk to the children in your lives. Go on an investigative journey and simply observe the young people around you.

But since it is the summer, and the weather has been unusually nice, and its never to late to try something old – anew. You might be best served in this endeavor to find a willing young person and ask him to be your teacher for the day. Grab his hand, don’t look back, and be.