Yesterday, I watched Poppy (4) playing with a long red shoe horn and six small blue paintbrushes. It was remarkable to me because the scene was so beautiful: the sun soaked her spot on the carpet, bathing her in light as she played. She was dressed in her white ‘dance clothes’, and her hair was large – matted in that indefatigable tangle that haunts many little girls who don’t like brushing their hair – almost like a knotted halo.
She spent a good 30 minutes sliding those paint brushes up and down the shoe horn, experimenting with different angles and whether or not leaning it on the couch would make the paint brushes slide faster or slower. Sometimes, they fell off, and she would rearrange the brushes to fit better on the horn. While left alone in her own little world of observation, she was completely absorbed in her experimentation with these unlikely objects.
Unlike current modes of education where adult interference and direction ‘guides’ the ‘learning’, I did not intrude in order to teach her something. I did not ask her questions to test her experience; I did not presume to interfere with her good work, by prompting her to count the paintbrushes or tell me the colour of the shoe horn.
Instead, I let her be. I let her be alive in the moment, allowing her life the space to breathe and be present. Rather than impose on her a slurry of factoids, as though I know better than her how to spend 30 minutes of a Wednesday morning, instead I become her student and learn from her ‘the art of attention’, the beauty of quiet wonder, and the joy of simple things.
In honouring her process, in allowing her space, I am giving her the room to grow, and the pace that she needs to thrive. An untethered childhood can be a place of restful discovery that is fully meaningful, impactful and educational, as delight can guide this little soul in a way that goading never can.