As a parent I ask myself, “What is the natural movement of my child? How can I support the unfolding of his personal expression, and how am I interfering?” As an educator and therapist I ask myself the same questions for the children I work with. Both structure and flexibility are important. We need some structure to promote learning and creativity, it helps us organize and can stimulate investigations. We need flexibility to make adjustments that also promote the curiosity, experiential learning, and self-esteem.
An example of striking a balance with structure and flexibility in a classroom occurred while I worked as a consultant for kids who were diagnosed on the autism spectrum that were integrated in a typical Pre-K. I remember an art project was set up according to the class theme. The children were to roll the red paint onto the paper with rollers. Boring! One of the children I was a consultant for wanted to roll the paint on his hand with a very wet roller, and then squeeze the dripping paint onto the paper in design. The teacher was concerned that he did not “follow the directions”. What he did was interact with the media in a way that made him interested, engaged his senses, curiosity and creativity. He did not drip onto the floor, or do anything that would impact others in a negative way. Furthermore, when I allowed him to do what he wanted with the media, he was socially engaging with me. I met him with the integrity of his natural movement. The kind of flexibility the teachers needed for this student was also good for all the children. As teachers or parents, when we design activities, it is important to make the activities flexible, to allow children the route to their own curiosity and personal expression. Art projects, or any projects that present media, manipulatives, ideas and perhaps use a theme, can be designed to allow for open-ended results that stimulate individual and collaborative investigations.
As a parent I can see how I might try to “form” certain kinds of activities with my son. I had a good reminder to practice what I preach when my son weeded through all his fabulous Halloween costumes this year to put on his rash guard and swim trunks and decided he was to be “Swimming Boy”. His Papa and I were all dressed up, when he threw his adorable dragon costume aside. Okay, I admit I was feeling a little silly that we were decked out next to a boy in regular Maui attire. I could feel my urge to form him into what I wished he would do. However, we let him be, doing what he wished. This not only allowed him to learn that we valued him thinking for himself, but allowed us to see the wisdom in his choosing, trusting the integrity of his own movement. I do admit, I tried to throw in an inner tube or boogie board into the “costume”, which he declined immediately. The even bigger lesson for me came after. He didn’t want the devices that aided floating. He told us that he was “Swimming Boy” because he is trying to learn to swim. He picked to be a child that already swims as empowerment without even consciously doing this.
Conformity is over rated and overvalued. Conformity can shut down learning, and dull a child’s spirit. I’m not talking about promoting chaotic environments without structure; I’ve already said structure is important. I am talking about the value of honoring our children’s personal expression, and creating environments that support curiosity, experiential learning, collaboration, creativity, and self-esteem. We all have different kinds of minds from each other. Environments that support all kinds of minds also support a healthy society where everyone has a contribution and is free to find who they are in the context of their world.
Image Credit: Malia Akinaka