A scientist at work

Cheyenne, you are a wonderful model for us all with your indomitable determination to explore and make sense of the world !  I have  lately been observing children with a greater respect for the fact that, unlike us “clever” adults, who like to think we have got everything sussed ( ho ho ! ), children come into the world with no prior experience of its spatio-temporal qualities, its curious humans and their communication strategies or for  that matter, the distinction between edible and inedible, yummy and not so  yummy. Every single bit of data has to be researched, explored, filed, rechecked against current working theories and then catalogued until some new experience suggests that we may need to reassess our understanding. It is a miracle and a godsend that children come so devoutly hardwired to undertake this mammoth undertaking.

My sense is that it is far too easy for us to see a child like Cheyenne and just see “cuteness”, and it’s absolutely undeniable that she is being adorably cute.

My worry is that we (I ?) can so easily forget to respect and admire this devotion to science, because the fact is that  without this drive, none of  us would learn anything.  Research by Carol Dweck has shown that most children have decided by about the age of 5 whether they are going to try new things because either A. They love to explore, are curious, are not afraid of making “mistakes”, do it for themselves rather than for praise, and are ‘intrinsically motivated’ with a “growth mindset”. (ie. they like to play) or B. They are more concerned about approval, praise, and external affirmation.  These children are less likely to take risks, are more afraid of “getting it wrong” and are “extrinsically motivated” with a “fixed mindset”.

So, the point for me, when I see Cheyenne doing the logical, intelligent scientific thing ( by tasting flour ), is that I want to celebrate her motivation to be curious and explore and I also hope that our feedback will be such that when she is 5, 16, 35 or 65, she will still be fascinated by the journey of learning ! ( Despite her doubts about the first taste, she checked it again, to the fascination of her peers. Go Cheyenne !! ).                                                              
(Evelyn. May 2013)

Two Blokes with their Beer ? (maybe)

Thankyou, Jaxon V and Jaxon G for so wonderfully illustrating so many aspects of children’s play. The closest thing I can relate it to from my own experience is the period of my life when I attended clown workshops. The similarities are , for me, that there will  be no spoken words but a lot of gestures, body language and eye contact; one will not worry about what one  or whether this is the politically correct thing to do; one will listen closely to one’s own needs and one will also be closely monitoring what is happening with the other person; no one is trying to be nice;  there may be objects to which one becomes unreasonably attached ; and there is an overall attitude of open-minded curiosity and wonder and interest; there is camaraderie but above all, self-protection, which may take rather odd forms. And one is also, of course, free to move away at any point if one loses interest and there is no obligation to say goodbye!

This extraordinary little exchange between Jaxon V and Jaxon G reveals evidence of all of the above. Given that the pundits and academics believe that children don’t really play ‘together’ until they are a bit older than this, but prefer to engage in ‘parallel play’, this interesting interlude is probably fairly new territory for them both. These two are well matched, both with strong characters and strong wills and neither has expectations of necessarily being able to get what he wants. So there is a quality of sparring for me -” What will he do if I do this? I’m going to check it out”.

To start with they both find themselves sitting side by side. They arrived separately. Then Jaxon  V tries to balance his goblet on the chair  beside him, first one side and then the other.(like a can of beer?)  Finally, under the apparently sleepy and disinterested gaze of Jaxon G, he puts it on the table just behind him and sprawls with a gesture of territorial satisfaction. Suddenly, Jaxon G becomes cat like and springs up and takes it! The consequences are momentarily a bit dire until  Jaxon G sensibly relents and Jaxon V gets a goblet back. But it is not the one that Jaxon V has been playing with in front of the mirror for the last half hour.

So now there is a certain tension in the air. They stare at each other. Then Jason G defiantly ‘drinks’ from the purple glass. Jaxon V watches with incredulity! (There is now a missing photo because the next thing is that Jaxon V surprises me by also tipping his head back and taking a swig!). Again they stare at each other. I am reminded  of some sort of beer drinking contest again! A certain degree of manly bravado is being played out. (Kaeden too, like me, is mesmerised – hence the missed photo) And then to my delight, with no apparent signal, they simultaneously raise their tankards and take a great swig together. It feels like they just signed a peace pact. Again there is a piece of the puzzle missing, because despite the peace pact, the question of ownership is not settled. I had to momentarily intervene to explain to Jaxon G that Jaxon V really wants the purple one back. The exchange is amicable and they sit for another few seconds.  Then Jaxon G just departs, leaving Jaxon V  looking a bit perplexed for a moment. Is he registering that maybe a buddy is more important than a purple goblet?  Probably not but maybe yes , on some unconscious level.  And maybe Jaxon G experiences a similar process.

It is through such delightful moments of co-operation, communication, compromise, impulse control (all cunningly disguised as ‘play’!!) that children eventually learn to be politically correct and socially and emotionally competent. It is this sort of thing, rather than wise admonitions and well-meant homilies from adults, which will eventually soften the naturally self-focused edges of children so that they will learn how to play for hours without falling foul of their own passions, impulses and longings. Thank you, both of you, for reminding me what fun clown workshops can be !! And life !

(Recorded by Evelyn.May 2013)

Determination and exploration

Focus ,determination, and a delightful sense of humour.

Today I had the privilege of spending time observing Grace setting about learning as many things as she could about her world in the Kina room. First of all, she explored the climbing rope ramp and what a delight to watch her. I was full of appreciation of how motivated and determined she was to master skill after skill after skill, whether it was fine motor skills, gross motor skills, language, relationships, or even the nature of humour! And not only this, but all these things came in such a complex and unpredictable package rather than in an organised tidy linear fashion!

I took a series of photos of Grace as she climbed that ramp and they capture the way she is so completely focussed on coordinating limbs and assessing distance and retrieving her balance. It is clear to me that Grace can manage this ramp pretty well and has deliberately chosen to tackle it while carrying a spoon and a bowl as well, just to add some spice to the complexity. Just at the end she dropped the spoon and being unable to reach it, Grace decided to follow the spoon, and so she had to get herself and the bowl off sideways. Which was pretty tricky as the ramp goes up at an angle and it was a big lift to get a leg up and out and over!

Later on, I had an enchanting exchange during which Grace was playing with a plastic bowl on her head and then saw me smiling at her and came closer and closer, playing with the bowl, and generously sharing the moment with me, with her eyes and her body language and her gorgeous smile. Grace’s determination to tackle challenges is such a driving force. During that one hour I saw her attempt about a dozen different and varied skills, many of which she created for herself. Once again, as when I met her last week, I noticed how single minded and focussed she can be. I shared a book of mine with her and Rubi and about 15 minutes later I asked Grace if she knew where it was. Off she went and I did not see where she went or where she looked but she found it and brought it to me. Her focus is quite outstanding, and her quiet, gentle demeanour with the other children is also very beautiful to watch. When I spend time with Grace it reminds me of how complex the world looks from a child’s point of view and how important it is that we give children, as Grace has clearly been given, the time and the respect to assess situations, consider options, weigh up their feelings and feel empowered to express their own perspective. Thank you, Grace.

(Recorded by Evelyn. May 2013) 

Welcome to the Kina Room aka Kurdistan!

Lachlan, this was the first day I met you and I was struck in the morning by how you
solemnly watched everything. Your eyes were wide open and watching, watching, watching.
When I checked with Mandy, I learned that you have been in the Kina room for only a short
time. In the afternoon I decided to take some time observing you as you explored this new
environment and the resources and people in it, and I was struck by the fact that it is
probably very hard for us adults to really appreciate how it might actually be for you.

It occurred to me that if I got dropped by parachute into Kurdistan (and that I have never
travelled abroad before in my life!), I might get a glimpse of what Lachlan experiences.
Imagine that this was an unanticipated event, that one cannot speak the language, that the
natives do not understand most of my sign language, that one knows nothing of the
customs, the social dynamics, the routines, the expectations, and there are numerous other
foreigners who do not share a common language, and some of whom are a bit distressed
and sometimes weepy.

I imagine that I too would simply solemnly stare, overwhelmed with the amount of stuff
that I am presented with and need to process; gathering data, noticing patterns, creating
working theories etc. I would definitely need a sense of belonging and wellbeing, before I
might consider exploring, playing, communicating and contributing. Or smiling much.
And this is why I trailed Lachlan with my camera, occasionally interacting and responding.
He became aware of my presence, my friendly interest in his activities and he increasingly
included me in his gaze and we shared some moments of playful pleasure. And by the time,
Dad came to pick you up and play for a while as well, Lachlan, you were clearly experiencing
a greater degree of wellbeing and connection, and I also felt I knew you a bit better.

It was an absolute pleasure to observe your earnest interest in the toys, the other children,
the building and driving challenges, and the way you explored various possible uses of
resources. I shared your pleasure too as you made a friendly connection with Kaeden, and I
empathised with you as you stared up at Kelvin, who must have looked huge and slightly
daunting from where you stood.

In all, my time ‘tracking’ and taking photos produced in me a feeling of awe with regards to
your resilience, your courage, your determination, your resourcefulness and your clear
instinct to find those things which you are nourished by……….play, connection, exploration,
friends, relationship, things with wheels, things you can pull, things to climb on to, and fall
off (but no tears!! ) playfulness, freedom to make choices ( make believe cooking or pulling
a vehicle? make believe cooking AND a vehicle ? ) and a feeling of belonging and well being.

It was only a 20 to 30 minute time frame but I felt I knew you so much better by the end of
that time (and it was a hard day in that it was raining all day and two other boys were
frequently expressing their lack of appreciation for being airlifted into Kurdistan
themselves). I take my hat off to you, Lachlan, and it was a privilege to observe you
managing your situation with such aplomb and dignity.
(Recorded by Evelyn. June 2013)