Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Pandemic Puts Kids Back to the Work of Being Kids

A lot has been said lately about how crazy it has been trying to relearn how to live with our spouses and children during this Covid-19 crisis. In between mad dashes to the grocery store and hand washing we’ve found we’ve grown out of practice. There are radio shows with therapists telling us how we can cope with the stress, and grieve our old lives.  There are podcasts about how to survive your 5th grader’s math lesson and still keep your self-respect. When you ask someone how they are doing these days, you tend to get a knowing look and then a “hanging in there!” response- or something like it.


But I’ve noticed something fantastically positive in this pandemic. Home has become more of a home and less of a over-night motel or train station. One 7 year old Scandia resident, too young to play along with the “we’re all in this (horrible- disruptive- awful -trying- scary-situation) together” narrative said it best:

“I kind of like it, actually. Dad’s home a lot more now, so he takes us on walks. We’ve been drawing all the birds we see in our notebooks, and trying to identify is they are migratory or not. It’s really cool.”

I only just recently realized that since the Governor’s stay-at-home order went into effect I’ve begun to see tipis on our lawn, crafted with branches salvaged from the woods and tied with barn twine, the dress up chest has been emptied out and employed to dazzling effect. My broom went missing the other afternoon. It had been commandeered by a 4.5 foot Roman soldier who was using it as a spear to stand guard over the baby who was dressed in a toga and being carted around on a “palanquin” as “Julius Caesar” complete with a paper laurel wreath. Apparently the 7th grader had become momentarily seized with inspiration during her history lesson and enlisted her siblings into the reenactment.


Since the start of the crisis, I’ve stopped taking the kids to the stores. It has freed them up to be about the business of serious play that is the work of children. While so much of the state is out of work, the children are busy, engaged, and happily fulfilled. At first I worried about the cancelled swimming lessons. No more tea parties and baking days with friends-birthdays celebrated without guests. But then I found out how much I had been disrupting with jaunts into town or planned activities. Children are remarkably gifted with resourcefulness. Our job is just to allow them the environment that is conducive to this lively work of building mind and character, and remove many of the obstacles we’ve grown to think of as necessities.  We can learn a lot from them.

Maria Montessori, an Italian education reformer born in Italy in 1870, was no stranger to these observations and to forced seclusion.  During her internment as an Italian national during World War II she wrote a fantastic book about child development called “The Absorbent Mind”.
 In it she writes:

“The child who concentrates is immensely happy; he ignores his neighbors or the visitors circulating around him. For the time being his spirit is like that of a hermit in the desert: a new consciousness has been born in him, that of his own individuality.”

Evening Chores at the Barn
It is the gift of concentration that this crisis has given back to our children. They are finding time to make whole wedding cakes out of play-dough. They are taking charge of dishwashing, setting the table, bringing water out to the cows, closing up the greenhouse to protect seedlings from frost. They are building forts and writing pen-pals. They are sewing and cooking, and singing under their breath. This time of sickness and anxiety can actually be a time of healing and renewal for our children and families. As Maria Montessori again writes,

Seeding Flats

Making Goat Cheese

Planting Potatoes

“When he comes out of his concentration, he seems to perceive the world anew as a boundless filed for fresh discoveries….Love awakens in him for people and things…….To exist and mix with our fellow men we must sometimes retire into solitude and acquire strength; only then do we look with love on the creatures who are our fellows…”

It may well be that in order to really grow through this crisis, the best thing we can do is to shut our computer and i-pad and smart phones OFF. Stop reaching out for virtual unity, and invest in real unity with the ones closest. We may very well look back on this time as one of the best. I know the kids in the backyard tipi with Dad will!

Quotes are from Chapter 26 Discipline and the Teacher of The Absorbent Mind

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