The power of the Gesture

I have been thinking about this simple yet powerful phrase for days – if not weeks. Last weekend I was talking to a dear friend on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean who is a teacher as well and we were talking about children and education (as you inevitably do once all the exchange of gossip is done) and we started to talk about it, and she had few stories about it.

Let me give you a quick picture about my friend. She is a gentle soul, with goodness exuding from each pore. She knows her stuff and children just get glued to her as if she is a magnet. I suppose 20 years + of experience in the field of education for a wide range of ages gives her authority to have a critical eye. Also, she comes from a family where all of them are involved with education; be it schools, universities, and private tuition.

In the other hand, I am a newbie. I have seen a lot in a brief period, but then again – as my friend says – I have seen so many different settings and educational approaches that the experience I am gaining is from a different perspective – let alone a different country – I can form an opinion having the advantage if you want to call it as such of my “innocence” in this profession and the heaps of life experience.

Before I carry on digressing let’s get back to the subject of “Gesture”.

You may wonder what is it about the gesture that it is so important? It is just a simple physical movement, a simple action.

It is indeed, a VERY powerful movement, a VERY powerful action. I think sometimes we undervalue the true worth of this noun.

Imagine that now there are courses to learn how to manage the gesture and how to read gestures. Feels that we are losing sight of the primeval instinct that tell us when a person is aggressive, just by the simple gesture of clinching the jaw or closing the hand as a fist.

Whilst I was doing my training, I was told, almost drilled into my brain the power of the gesture with children. Did you know that a child can feel the emotional status of the adult who cares for him? Did you know that the small child can read the adult like a book, just looking at the gestures? And did you know that the child copy and imitate these gestures from the adult and takes them as the norm, hence forth will do these gestures because is what they have learnt from the adult and it will be imprinted into their brains until adulthood?

What I am saying is that if an adult slams the doors (for example) for no good reason, rest assured: the child will slam doors, as soon as he can. If an adult washes dishes as if it was a labour of love, yes, you got it. The child will do the same.

Which takes me to what my friend was telling me about the gesture. She was commenting about “helpers” in a setting she happened to be accompanying a friend to do an inspection. Two young girls in their 20’s, both capacitated as early years educators – one of them studying to qualify as a teacher for reception – and both very sweet and funny, engaging children with activities and all the rest.

All was nice and dandy until lunchtime came. The children where all seated at their places, and these girls gave to the children the names of the children, written with biro in white pieces of paper. The logic behind it was to get the children to sit where their name was, and to swap paper for plate with food.

At this point I did ask how many children were in the room seated at the table. She said there were 4 tables, and 4 children per table. Is this “plate for paper” necessary? I wonder. Surely the carer(s) should know the names of the children in her care.

Then she mentioned how the lunch time developed. The carer(s) wore aprons, and did not put the food directly for children to help themselves (best way to not waste food if you ask me; children will eat what they really can eat) but served food directly on each individual plate. Spooning the food from the bowl, throwing it on the plate; tearing the bread apart and flinging the slices on each plate.

As she was telling me, I felt my jaw dropping. How could they be so careless with such a single gesture…And then I remembered that I should not be surprised. I have seen this not particularly with food…but with homework books, notebooks, and many other daily objects you could find in a classroom. Or with toys and equipment in nurseries when tidy up time. And then we wonder why children throw things up in the air…

“Oh” I managed to mutter. “But it does not end up there!!!” she said with a sigh…She told me how the children where prompted to eat and immediately afterwards a toothbrush already with paste and a wet towel were presented to them so they could brush their teeth.

Yes, fine, it is good because it does promote good hygiene habits. But then again, that pause, that space in time where you finish eating, you share that time of nothingness whist you wait for the rest to finish the food on their plates and then you go to the toilet to wash your hands, your face and brush your teeth, perhaps with your peers, it makes it more fun. More learning opportunities, more social interaction opportunities.

She finished telling me her experience and we started to talk about timings, about “acceleration – ism” and of course how everything was intertwined with the gesture and how powerful it was and as I wrote at the beginning how we diminish the immense power of this noun on a day to day basis.

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Reflection

One day, two parents turn to their rabbi for advice, because of serious problems they are having in raising their child.

They ask this wise man to suggest something they could do to help their son overcome his problems.

The rabbi thinks for a moment and then looks at the parents in some surprise and says,

“It is not your child who needs to change, but you who must change first.”

 

Armin Krenz (Ed.) Handbuch fur Erzieherinnen (loose-leaf periodical) 06/2005 issue

Trust me, I am a baby

Imagine if your baby say that to you:

“Trust me, mum (dad/nan/responsible adult in charge of me) I know exactly what I am doing”

What would you do – apart from double checking that the drink was not spiked – would you relax and stand in awe or would you just turn and say “oh, please! You are a baby!”

I would incite you to think again on what your answer would be under this hypothetical situation. It is difficult, it is not? This beautiful human being, just arrived in your life, needs your whole attention from feeding to dressing almost 24/7 – yes, discount a few hours of sleep here and there – so how can she/he be able to  “ know exactly what he/she is doing”? How could somebody who depends her/his entire life somehow can know exactly what are they doing?

The answer is simple really. They know what they are doing: they are learning. They are learning about what surrounds them, who surrounds them. When they cry, they are learning to “ask” in the only possible way known to them at that time for food, for warmth, for comforting. And they are learning as well who are those “giants” (a.k.a. parents/carers) who respond to that cry.

The baby will “take mental notes” of the voices, smells, main features of the face of the carer, and the way the carer handles he/she. The baby will feel the “mood” of the carer too.

When you see a baby gazing around and you are wondering what they may be thinking, the baby is learning about the space and is starting to see what is near, what is far and as soon as she/he is strong enough to move – they will know when, and you will know as well, because you will see it – they will try to grab what they see, reach to it. And then is when they discover the beginning and end of their bodies.

When they start to gaze at those two marvellous things on their sides, later to be known as hands, they can spend hours looking at them. Have you ever stop to gaze at your hands and truly observe them, noticing every wrinkle, every knuckle, the tips of your finger?

And for a baby it gets even better when they discover those things at the far end, called feet. And, as the hands, they will end up in their mouths.

All these processes are not to be belittled; they take a “huge” effort from the baby and is one of the fundamental cornerstones for development in every possible sense: physical, emotional, and cognitive.

Physical because they start to learn about their bodies and the boundaries and how to go beyond those; emotional because they start to recognise emotions such as joy when they can touch what they see, they can reach what is near or perhaps frustration because they cannot do so; and cognitive because they start to recognise distances – near or far, for example – and is setting the baseline for what later in life will be other cognitive capabilities such as speech and concentration.

Because they require a fantastic effort from the baby, only him/her will do all this on their own good time; a baby *knows* when is ready to learn all this, when is ready to do this effort.

Trust the baby. He/she knows what is doing.

Tête-à-tête

It has been quite a long time since my last post. And yes, probably I did write the same words and I made the solemn oath to myself to write more often.

And yes, life happened and the blog got thrown right to the back seat together with my solemn oath and my will to write once a week or so.

Spring is finally here and this would be the third spring season on the blog. Funnily enough the daffodils pictured three years ago (http://thehappyboobclub.com/2013/03/17/the-first-daffodil/) are the same who decided to bloom first yet again three years later.

So, life happened. Finally I started my course on Early Years Education.  Finally I got a job working with children as an assistant. The place is fairly new and there are children from 6 months old to almost 5 years old.  Being an assistant I pivot from one room to the other  and I get to see the “ins and outs” of childcare and everything I am reading in books notes and lectures from my course I can put into practise – or not – during my work.

Needless to say I am learning so much and gaining so much experience that I feel I could write volumes. More than once I thought on writing on this blog about my day as a sort of cathartic experience but then again I am so intertwined with the confidentiality policy and child protection and child safeguarding that the idea soon became an illusion.

Not because of the name and shame – that of course would not happen – but because of the back-of-the-brain fear that my catharsis would fall into the wrong ears. Paranoid? Yes of course. I read “1984” quite a while back and it has become one of my desert island books and living with the world posed by Mr. Wells in the now is tough enough. Nowadays where EVERYTHING is readily available at the press of a button (or the slide of a finger) no matter how hard you try to hide, you will always, inevitably be found. Unless you decide to go wild and get rid of any means of communication even then you would not cease to exist in the virtual world.

Do not take me wrong. I think the advance in technology is beyond awesome and some good comes from it. I wonder – in the same way probably my parents did – what is ahead and what the future would be like for my son who uses a “Smartphone” as easy as I use a toothbrush. The innovations in technology are so embedded into us that we take it for granted and it is hard to go back to the good old paper letter instead of the fast email as a dear friend reminded me a few days ago when we were having a conversation using skype whilst she was in Argentina and I was in England.

This techno life we acquired – either by will, force and/or need – is unconsciously (or not) being transferred to children. Proof of this is not only the innumerable amount of parents who decide to switch from open dialog to Smartphone but the behaviours I see amongst children as small as 9/10 months old in my place of work.

As I said at the beginning being an assistant I hover around different rooms. Last week I had to assist in babies’ room and the babies were playing at length with different toys. Amongst those toys there were some that looked like a mobile phone made of wood with big coloured buttons and a mirrored surface (see picture, courtesy of http://www.toyshopuk.co.uk/brands/erzi).

Anyway, time came to serve tea and of course all babies were seated round a table. Guess what? Two or three babies were having tea, with a pseudo mobile phone by their plates and they were pressing buttons and time to time picking them up whilst eating. Until I intervened and removed the objects from the table which of course caused some discomfort.

This is a picture that is ingrained in my memories and honestly it hurts. It is one of those things that it does not matter how many times you blurt it out, it will still be there. It raises so many questions. My main question is if these babies when they grow old and are fully formed adults would understand the deep value and meaning of a dialog face to face with another breathing human being either across a table or side by side when they grow up without having a screen in their hands.