A couple of lovely little observations from today. They were just passing moments, but they really reinforced for me a great deal that I instinctively feel about learning.
Joseph woke up earlier than usual today with a blocked nose and wanted breakfast straight away. I told him that I wasn't feeling too good and wanted to have a rest until his brothers woke up but that he was free to play until then. He told me he would hold my hand down the stairs, assuming that I had a back ache as his Daddy has recently! I told him my back was fine and that I had a sore throat, so he handed me a cup of water and said, "here mummy have a drink of my water, that will make it better. You can drink it all if you want to". It made me feel wonderful to know that he has enough experience of having his own needs met that he is able to respond with empathy to the needs of another, and to know that he has experienced enough kindness that he is able to be so effortlessly kind. No doubt he was partly thinking, "if I can help her feel better then maybe I'll get breakfast quicker", but it felt kind not manipulative!
In my post 'Why we've decided to learn at home' (April 2012) I wrote about my hope that our children will be able to learn by example rather than 'teaching' and I think this is a sweet demonstration of that. I'm not sure how I would start to 'teach' warmth, empathy, compassion and kindness, instead it feels wonderful and natural to immerse them in these things and allow them to learn from experience. When Oliver and I looked around a local school with Joseph last year, we were told about work some of the children had been doing on 'using kind words'. I'm not naive enough to think that all children are hearing these at home, indeed I've no doubt that for some children school is the only place they hear anything close to kind words, I just question how effectively such things can be 'taught'. Being kind, and using kind words seem like two different things to me anyway. In my working life I spent several years working with young offenders as a drug and alcohol practitioner, and observed many an attempt by the system to make them aware of the impact of their offences on others. In many cases these young people had experienced traumatic, disrupted childhoods and I couldn't help wondering how we can expect compassion and empathy from people who may never have experienced these for themselves. I'm not going to make any judgement about the extent to which a child will receive warmth, empathy, compassion and kindness at school, I can only say that I know my children will get an abundance of this at home, and I see this as integral to all the learning that happens.
The other little moment was humour! A situation had been brewing between Charlie and Joseph and resulted in a slap thrown from Joseph to Charlie as he stomped tearfully across the room. He shoved himself into a corner knocking a couple of empty nappy boxes on his head. We looked at one another, laughed and I said "It's not your day today is it!" which is a little line Oliver started with him whenever a minor mishap occurs such as when something is dropped or a toe is stubbed. He was soon giggling away, and within minutes the three boys had made a tunnel with the boxes and were pretending they were badgers, playing happily together. We didn't dwell on the argument or the slap, it all dissolved in the laughter. One thing I love about learning at home is that we can choose what does or doesn't become an issue in any given moment. I think a four year-old could back themselves into a corner pretty easily with impulsive outbursts of one kind or another whether they be excited, angry or frustrated in nature. As someone who loves him completely, I want to give Joseph every opportunity to come out of a situation feeling ok about himself and so as soon as the anger and frustration had passed for him, it had passed for me and all of us. He let it go and laughed, and we all knew that the incident was not worth pursuing. Sometimes an argument or tussle between the boys needs to be followed up and sorted out in one way or another, but this didn't and I love that we can make that call and he doesn't have to spend any time feeling bad about himself, and doesn't have to hear the tale of his poor behaviour recounted later. Instead he had an opportunity to learn how quickly negative feelings can pass if you allow them to, how peacefully we can all move through a blip.