It is true that I have worked for over 10 years in the childcare field with children and families from all backgrounds across this country (and beyond), and it is also true that I am on course to become a Child Psychotherapist (with a Somatic lens) as well as in the process of writing a children’s book – however, up until a couple of weeks ago it had also been true that I had never officially been in the teaching role (always a teacher, never officially teaching). All of that truth expanded when I accepted a teaching role as the Art and Science instructor of a summer education camp – taking on 5 classes of kindergarten through fourth graders per day (sometimes with around 20 kids a class) – it was like a crash course on life in one micro and macro-cosmed form all at once. Am I making sense back in the adult world yet? If not, blame my still recovering exhausted body – if yes, then you clearly do or have or worked with children (or still have access to that sacred part of yourself). No need to expand further, below are the 7 lucky life lessons that I ended up learning from the children.
1. “Music makes everything better” (although what the kiddos call “those discs,” aka CD’s, are more in oblivion than I realized)!
Yes this is a direct quote from one of the most challenging students I had this summer. This occurred when I went against the traditional grain of annoying “kidz bop” and Disney music and straight-up put on my Soulphonic Soundsystem Pandora station – a mixture of funky beats and ambient sounds that led to many a stop, drop, and dance party in my Art and Science room! I digress, I brought this student into my room early one morning after she could not be consoled upon drop-off. I asked if she had seen my Art Gallery and if she would like to add a piece to the wall – she immediately stopped the meltdown and quietly drew as I put this music on my newly acquired speakers (serious teacher score might I add). That is when she told me she listens to that very song every morning on the way to camp (which made me chuckle as I highly doubt the accuracy of this statement although perhaps her dad does play groovy similarly sounding tunes), followed by: “MUSIC MAKES EVERYTHING BETTER.” Now that is a serious truth I can get down to – sometimes I forget, but being immersed in childhood for 2 solid weeks nearly 12 hours a day, there was no way I could forget it – and you better believe my room soon became the music hub, pouring out sweet sounds from all the open doors and windows, eventually graduating to my Fela Kuti station! A conduit in more ways than one.
2. Unicorn beds are now potentially an attainable goal of the future.
I feel like I’m revealing some big insider secret, but all I can say is that I spent a week watching my 2nd-4th grade crew building animal themed business, and one girl power group made all my Lisa Frank dreams come true with their innovations!
3. Kindgardener’s are far better at technology than I may ever be!
There are far too many funny anecdotes to accompany this truth, but I think I’ll just hit you with the best one…Firstly, beyond my Art and Science teacher duties, I was also in charge of leading Lego Lab every afternoon. Sounds simple and sweet right? WRONG! This was seriously not your mother’s average Lego experience – it involved USB chords connected to motors that then connected to some laptop of the Apple variety with some special software (?!) – the perfect technology storm for me personally. Thank goddess for the delightful 8 year old who graciously taught me how to properly work the WeDo in about 3 minutes flat!
4. Boundaries are essential to set when entering any humyn relationship for any period of time!
I CANNOT STRESS THIS TRUTH ENOUGH – especially to little girls often taught the opposite of this who turn into womyn that feel bad saying no! Listen, I still struggle very much with this, but after having lived in the Bay Area for two years now, I realize the importance more than ever – especially on my path to becoming a Somatic Psychotherapist (and to honoring self-love fully). To be honest, I didn’t just learn this truth from the children I was teaching, I also learned it in various ways from the staff I was working in accordance with. Also, from my 10+ years of childcare witnessing ALL styles of parenting and combining that with my knowledge of Child Development and Psychology: Children crave boundaries. point. blank. (Sidenote rant: for example, parents, asking your 2 or 3 year old what they want to wear for the day from their whole closet is not “giving them choices” it’s overwhelming the fuck out of their brains, which are not at the stage to process that yet!)
5. Never underestimate the power of an active imagination.
I strongly believe that structured activities and lessons and games that occur throughout the day, should be counterbalanced with purely creative free times that allowed the full use of the children’s imagination to take over! I observed that whenever I told the k-1st graders to create anything they wanted within a specific theme (for example, when we built habitats), they really dove right in and went for it, as opposed slightly to the 2nd-4th graders who would often come back at me with several questions about “the rules.” For example, even after I told them the animal and habitat could be real or imaginary as long as it included water, food, and shelter, they really had a hard time accepting that they could look beyond let’s say “lion,” and make it a purple lion, or jump to “unicorn,” or “*insert made up animal name here*”. However, I also noticed them getting better and better at expanding their own possibilities throughout the week – it took simple and gentle permission and encouragement from myself, and I really honor/ed the importance of that role (and the importance of other adults mirroring this for them in their lives). *Just now as I write this, I realize how this imaginative lesson embedded throughout allowed for the ultimate creation of a unicorn inspired bed mentioned above, for example, or my other team who contracted an amazing camouflaging robot.* Also, my k-1st graders had no shortage of imagination supply to tap into, and one of my favorite moments was taking aside three of the most notably always getting in trouble kids and having them do story time with me – allowing each of them time to create with their words and then listen to one another – it was beautifully healing for us all I believe.
6. Fat Phobia is already seeping into their minds and bodies at a rapid pace, just as gender norms have been set in stone (almost)!
Parents: Listen Up! Look up! Live up! This is my new advice around catching the rapid onslaught of Fat Phobia and gender norming being released onto your children multiple times a day (perhaps even accidentally by yourselves)! Sometimes I don’t even understand where these connections the children make come from until much later in time and experience. For example, I was working with children who already held the belief that superheroes cannot be fat and/or if you’re fat you can’t be a super/hero.
Finally, I recently happened to see some parts of The Incredibles film again while nannying, and was shocked at the underlying message I didn’t even catch the first time around even though it was so blatantly visible. Essentially, the father goes through a long montage of losing weight – checking his waistline with a measuring tape and going on the scale – over the montage you could see that the thinner he got, the closer he got to becoming a superhero again (which just wasn’t possible when he became his fatter and “lazier” self – a note touched upon by other characters as well). I was very disturbed as the children took visible note of this and regurgitated it as truth! To touch briefly on gender norms, they were running rampant everywhere I looked – but I always made sure to remind the kids of very simple things like “boys can like pink and girls can like blue,” just like “anyone can wear nail polish if they want,” after an adorable boy told me he liked my nail polish and he had painted his once and other kids had adverse reactions. I also really appreciate the male support of my co-workers, especially when one who is idealized for his athleticism and masculinity told the group he wanted his nails done like ours (*when men enact Feminism in these small but important ways it feels so surprisingly supportive to me*)
7. Embodying my own truth in the form of my chosen nickname was more healing than I knew possible!
In order to honor my spiritual belief system that stems from my Native American heritage, I chose to embody my Native American Animal Totem – something I knew the children would help re-enliven and bring magic to with honor and soul. The experience helped me to reconnect to sacred parts of myself in ways I couldn’t fully understand before embarking on this teaching journey. I took on the qualities of my totem, reminding myself and all of us, that there are times when choosing our own power really is within our reach.
What have you learned from the children you’ve taught or experienced? Share your thoughts in the comments below!