Keeping wonder alive

Kids are born wondering about everything.  You have to watch the child closely when they’re young because they are so filled wondering about if the stove, the brooms, the vacuum, the piano.  What is everything?  That wonder about everything.  And then I think it moves into discovery.  Then they have to know it.  They have to take it apart. 

Things to think about

How do you stay in a child’s moment of discovery?
How can you join in on a child’s fascination without the adult’s knowing?
Do you have magnifying glasses available at your school to children all the time?
How do you assist children in their discoveries and allow them to figure out the questions themselves?

Highlights from Playful Wisdom
by Michael Mendizza featuring Bev Bos and Joseph Chilton Pearce

Outside on a busy tourist sidewalk, a frustrated three-year-old sits on the ground and refuses to budge. Her mother is furious. “No,” shouts the little one. “Get up right this minute!” Again, “No,” cries the toddler. The mother reaches down, grabs the now-screaming girl by the legs, holds her upside-down and shakes her violently, while the raging woman’s husband and older child stand by saying nothing. This is what happens when we pick a fight with a toddler. No one wins and the collateral damage, long-term, is crippling. What goes around comes around. Maybe not right away, but at age ten or fifteen or twenty-five. How would an Aikido master meet a toddler’s demands, their quick temper and sometimes tears? Aikido is often translated as “the way of harmonious spirit.” The founder’s goal was to create an art practitioners could use to defend themselves while also protecting their attacker. Aikido is unusual for this emphasis on protecting the opponent, in this case our children, as part of one’s spiritual and social development. Ueshiba, the founder, developed Aikido after experiencing several spiritual awakenings. He said:

The Way of the Warrior has been misunderstood. It is not a means to kill and destroy others. Those who seek to compete and better one another are making a terrible mistake. To smash, injure, or destroy is the worst thing a human being can do. The real Way of a Warrior is to prevent such slaughter—it is the Art of Peace, the power of love… The source of ‘bud’ (the martial way) is God’s love—the spirit of loving protection for all beings.

Parenting and Aikido have a lot in common. Both are arts, a spontaneous creative flow where students (and all parents are students) meet their needs while simultaneously meeting the needs of the child. Instead of meeting on the dojo mat, we meet our toddler challenges in play. What I find so interesting is how time often plays a central role in conflict. We make up some arbitrary deadline, like Now!, and we expect our tiny ones to conform. If not, we get all bent out of shape. But I hear you protest, “We are serious, busy adults. We have rules, regulations, priorities, schedules and responsibilities.” Our little ones don’t live in that world. They are in the moment and this moment is for play. We have to appreciate that “play is learning:” learning how to relate. To break this flow to meet some (to the child) unknown and abstract demand, is a betrayal of what nature demands children do, that is; learn and discover in the optimum state for learning and discovery called “play.” When we realize that the state of the relationship is infinitely more important than meeting the demand de jour, we give precedent to the quality of the relationship. That is where parenting and Aikido meet. The warrior bent on winning relates completely differently than one who meets his or her needs while simultaneously protecting and therefore meeting the deeper needs of others.

I think kids are born wondering about everything.  You have to watch the child closely when they’re young because they are so filled wondering about if the stove, the brooms, the vacuum, the piano.  What is everything?  That wonder about everything.  And then I think it moves into discovery.  Then they have to know it.  They have to take it apart.  And I think that for me they have to discover it on their own.  One of the lovely stories I tell about discovery is this.  A little girl, her family, invited me over to the house for dinner and it was a really cold night.  I went over there and she opened the door and her breath came out and she could see her breath and she slammed the door, almost right on my face.  And then she opened it up again and went whoosh again and then shut the door, and then whoosh.  She thought that she was the first person that had ever done that.  When I think about discovery one of the things I think about is I think children need to feel that they’re the first person that has ever done this on this planet, that this is the moment when we have discovered this.  And I don’t think we let that happen to kids very much.  We set it up so that there’s this and then this happens and then we test them.

Kids have got to feel that they’re the very first person on this planet to do this and I think that slowly but surely when you don’t do that, they lose that sense of wonder, of wanting to know everything because you figured it all out for them.  They don’t care anymore.  So that wonder, I am really surprised sometimes when I watch families and stuff.  I haven’t quite figured out why parents don’t walk around with just a magnifying glass in their hand with their kids so that everything can be peered at, everything can be looked at, everything can be wondered about.  When you listen to Richard Fineman talk about what his father was like when he was a child, … a great Physicist, is that his father would say things like look at the way that bird is.  That birds got his head down.  Those kinds of things.  Not telling them why or how but just kind of a statement of wonder.  And I think that you don’t wonder about much.  You watch people as they’re walking along.  There doesn’t seem to be that kind of looking around, picking up pods.  It started in the very first place with nature.  I just went to a, I love to garden and we garden at school and I went to a gardening workshop and somebody said, the first thing they said was, “The first mistake we made was planting things at the wrong time of the year.”  How could that be a mistake?  That’s not a mistake.  We could figure out if something doesn’t grow again.

It’s that kind of wondering about what happened here?  How the tomatoes had all those blooms and they didn’t have tomatoes. That’s how we figure things out and then the ability to discover it, to answer the question about wondering.  We have a magnet thing that we do with the kids.  It’s metal bars and there’s magnets hanging on there and then there’s magnets underneath and a little boy named Arul came in one day and he said to me, “I thought about this all night long Bev Bos.  I don’t believe that magnets work in water.”  And I said, “We’d better figure this out.”  So I got a big pan that would sit under there.  He decided he had to put blocks underneath it and then he put magnets in the water and then he took a big magnet and went underneath and it worked and he was just, what if I had said, oh, of course they do, but he’s got to figure that out by himself.  And how we do that is really, really important.  I think that sometimes we don’t know enough about what they’re wondering about to assist that.  We know just enough to ruin it.  Like I think the parent could say well magnets, of course they work in water, but the kids need to figure that out by themselves.