Listen to the Wisdom of the Children
Someone I grew up with but have not seen in years often posts on Facebook about her son’s antics. I delight in watching him grow (and also all of the other Facebook babies I know), especially his moments of wit and wisdom that his mother captures so well. On Sunday, she posted the above image and the following description:
“Today I had to explain to my child that 50 people have died. That they were killed by a man who didn’t like them because they were different. I talked to him about a real life example of evil. He said…
“I want to be glad that he died too then, but that would also make me a bad guy. Let’s not think about him. Let’s just be sad for the dead people and their moms.”
Our children are growing up in a more and more violent world. We are the only ones who can stop this. If you can watch the innocence leave your child’s face and defend this horrendous crime, then you are the problem.”
His words haunted me, and inspired me to write yesterday’s post about ways for children’s programming professionals to support children dealing with tragedy, loss, or simply very scary news. I wanted today’s #inspirationtuesday to be about him and his words, so I asked his mother if I could share them. She said something else that struck me:
“I basically left that part out. The motive. I just told him that the bad guy didn’t like them because they were different and he didn’t have a good reason. It’s weird…. That I think a child could handle the concept of evil better than me trying to explain why someone would hate love.”
No one has to explain evil to a child who loves superheroes, but it’s when the bad guys turn out to be ordinary people and not criminal masterminds that the adults in the world realize they are afraid. We should be afraid of hate. We should be afraid of violence. We should be afraid of destruction. Because fear comes out of realizing that what we love could be lost, and channeling it is what makes us want to change the world.
How Listening to Children Can Change the World Faster Than You’d Think.
I have worked in many environments which foster Guided Discovery, student-led learning, and child-driven projects. This is different from many traditional American public education approaches in that it waits for the child to bring up a subject or idea before pursuing a topic. This ensures that we aren’t placing something in the laps of children who aren’t ready to handle it, like my friend’s explanation to her son. If there is a goal in the lesson from the teacher’s viewpoint, it has to remain vague or risk trampling what the children themselves can build.
Now, this isn’t one of those “every kid gets a trophy” sorts of things. On the contrary, this approach also requires absolutely no validation from the adult in charge, either. Let me give you an example:
The goal for the week at our Scout meeting is to come up with the next badge we want to work on. I ask what they might like to learn about or try out next. During the conversation, we start talking about animals, and how everyone really likes their pets. I realize that we are no longer talking about a badge, but that’s okay, because the kids (even our quiet ones) are interested in and contributing to the conversation. One kid starts describing a sad story they heard about an animal being neglected. Another starts in about a story about an animal that stayed in a shelter for six months because no one wanted it. I gauge how many more stories the whole troop can hear before they all start getting hysterical, but they seem okay for now.
I ask leading questions when there is a pause, such as “what do you feel about the stories you just told?” and “can you think of ways that people can help?”. Depending on the age group and the number of years in my troop, some of them will pull out the idea for a community service project. If they don’t come up with it on their own, I might ask if they want to be able to do something about it to see if they then take it and run or decide that they want to move on. If what they come up with is a puppy food drive for the shelter, I might ask them a few more questions to help deepen their project, like “do you know what the shelter actually needs right now?” and “can you think of the biggest problems shelters face?”. After that, all it takes is assigning tasks like who will call the shelter to find out about their needs (kids love to feel important by calling adults–just make sure you work with them to come up with a script so they know what they need to say to get their questions answered), who will create and put up flyers, and who will organize the collection and distribution of the items to the shelter. The kids will do it on their own; I am the fence that gives them the boundaries of their project, but I don’t appear until they already know what they want to do. Kids get way more creative than I expect, even after doing this for years.
If it takes a year to complete the project, who cares? Was there a deadline to begin with? Maybe not! What the kids get out of thinking up, planning, and executing a project on their own is a sense of accomplishment, of control over their world, and a way to understand something that to them, previously, was just a tragedy.
If the kids you work with want to discuss their knowledge of something terrible, make it a safe place for them to express their emotions, and see if their conversation can become productive. Even if they cannot make world-wide change as 6-year-olds, their wisdom can inspire a 29-year-old 1500 miles away.