Saturday, August 27
"Where do I sign my kid up for the Character Development class?"
Sifting through the internet, I have noticed references again and again to the Idle Parent, a new parenting manual by Tom Hodgkinson. The premise is neatly summarized here , which is good since I have not read the book therefore am a poor reviewer.
Instead it brought to mind two separate incidents today, both involving messes and brothers.
The first happened in my classroom at the start of the preschool lesson. I have six kids in this class and this year one of those kids is the younger brother joining his big brother in English class. Their father typically drops them off in the classroom about twenty minutes early, leaving them to play with the activities I have set up for them regardless if there is an adult around or not. I do my best to prepare the classroom, knowing what they are capable of and trying to give them something to do while the others trickle through the door.
Today these preparations were ignored in favor of the chalkboard. I keep the basket of chalk and eraser out of reach but the eldest brother decided to make it within his reach by using a chair and a box. Treasure obtained, he and his brother began to draw on the board. Nothing wrong with that. Then they proceeded to have an epic chalk war. Smashed up little bits of chalk went everywhere, the chalkboard was covered with scribble and colorful dust. An utter mess. Of course, at this time the other students were arriving so my attention was diverted though even if it hadn't been, I might have allowed the battle just to see how far they would take it. With their classmates around to play with, a ceasefire was immediately in effect and the chalk was forgotten. So, I had to take the beginning of class to enforce a cleanup of the battleground. There were complaints, and a couple of attempts to go AWOL, but after a bit, they did it. And they were really good for the rest of the class.
Fast-forward to this evening where a rice war broke out while dad was in the shower and mom was tending to the baby. What possessed my kids with normally decent table manners to spit rice at each other is beyond me. Maybe they were tired-silly after walking around downtown this evening. Maybe they just saw an opportunity and took it. Either way, it had to be cleaned up. And no one was better fit for the job than the spitters themselves. Now, being close to bedtime, there was a lot of complaining. Too much complaining. Why do I have to pick up so much rice? Do I have to pick up the rice under the sofa/table/chair/rug? But the rice was picked up, bedtime stories were read, and cheeks were kissed goodnight.
Now many people might think that I was too lazy in both cases. Maybe I was, I am unabashedly lazy. Yet I see it more of as a chance to let kids find their boundaries and realize what happens when they go past them. With the first situation, there was a grandmother outside of the glass doors watching me. And if my experience with kids who attend English lessons is correct (a polite way of saying overscheduled and consequently overindulged), the grandmother might have been horrified that I spent so much class time making sure that those boys took responsibility for their actions. Her granddaughter was deposited in my class under the pretense that I would teach her and her classmates English, not help them develop their characters.
I see it differently. I think that for children, there is not this idea of segmented time while you grow. They use every opportunity they can to work on what they intrinsically know needs developing. This does not fit into a schedule book. It is all encompassing and every adult in their life should allow for it.
Also, in the case of the boys, they were listening and following instructions in English and even arguing with me in English. That's pretty authentic.
It is possible that this might be just cultural bristling. And not just with Japanese culture, though it is easy to point at that since it surrounds me. I think that this new style of parenting, these frazzled time manager parents with their kid-business plans, is actually its own culture. It is perhaps even a socio-economic class issue. I don't have the money to send my kid to a dozen different classes, but I do have a lot of time to let them make a mess (or explore their world) and tidy up afterwards.
In the end, it comes down to what the adult in charge has in mind for the adult-to-be. What sort of adulthood should we wish for our kids, one where they are always on time and really good at multi-tasking? Or perhaps one where the kids are self-directed and confident, willing to make a mess and clean it up?