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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Work…

Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.

Studs Terkel

As usual, big thanks to Goodreads quotes that arrive to my inbox in a daily fashion.

I do not know up to what point I find this phrase depressive or actually very much real. As I work in different schools and settings on a daily basis, I feel very close to the words search for meaning; but more than that I search and I work really hard to be present for those children who are full of absence and they just do not know how to say it – although they are asked to write stories-.

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

Everybody is wearing pyjamas

Few weeks back at the nursery my son goes to it was dress up day and the theme was “Super Heroes”. The children were to go dressed up as their favourite Super Heroes. In our household, “heroes” is a subject taught by father since I cannot recall a hero in the same way he does.

Hence it was my partners job to think on which Super Hero our little one was going to be dress like since I never put too much of a thought on heroes to be honest. Heroes for me were Gandalf; in an awkward sort of way the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland and whilst in my twenties and doing all-nighters for uni with the television as companion I discovered amongst the cartoons two “Superheroes”: “Dangermouse” and “Speedracer”.

Only when I got older – and I got to read more books – I got to know some real women who did amazing things, real heroines (not to be confused with heroin!) like Hypatia, Amelia Earhart, Marie Curie, and many others – I could be all day trying to draw a rough list! – and these women gave me the inspiration I needed at the time. They did not chase white rabbits, speak with dragons, climb walls using webs or destroy any villains with powerful glances. On second thought: they did: in the real world, giving hard stares, chasing their dreams and speaking their mind.

Although it does not escape to me the magic of the superheroes represented by cartoons: imposing justice left right and centre, smashing evils and restoring peace and order after all the chaos, with a glimmering smile and a shining outfit. And for the cartoon heroines, those as well, pose a fabulous figure enrobed with a shining outfit and the perfect smile – not to mention no hair out of place (not even one!) after imprisoning a villain and rerouting a convoy of trucks to avoid a family of ducks crossing the road at that exact time.

I am unsure how these superheroes and superheroines may affect the child and the adult it will become in the future and I am unsure if children realise that superheroes are human beings – take Wonder Woman for example – who transform themselves into something extraordinarily powerful to fight injustice. I am sure though there are many studies about this subject all going for it or all against it.

As for my partner, Spiderman and Batman have a special place in his heart and he already gave our little one enough outfits branded with both characters. He cannot tell me why those two are so special to him. But they are. My partner always tells me how singular it was to sit down to watch the cartoon in the afternoons and enjoy every second of it.

As for me, I find Superheroes cartoons very graphic and violent – not to mention that nowadays the resolution on any device is simply amazing – and the path such characters embark upon to bring peace and justice is one of destruction galore which in my humble opinion, is just not good and sets a really bad example for a child and I find it very upsetting that all the good characteristics you want to find in a superhero are just obscured – if not obliterated – by the level of destruction caused to eradicate evil.

And it is my suspicion that obliteration is what remains in the memories of children today thanks to the high definition and fine detail (and extent) on the destruction, fights and damage provoked; the end message of good goes above evil, team work and good moral values are lost amidst ruins, fires, explosions, cars flying and kicks.

I am all up for good old costumes: a skirt that can be a tunic or a long dress; a blanket that can become a cape or a portable tent and a pair of swimming goggles that magically allows to see further away over the hills. Let’s not diminish the power of a stick and a cardboard box; or a belt (oversized) with a hat which transforms a mundane child into the most impervious pirate.

One word: magic. I feel the cartoons raid the magic and slash the imagination and feeds the child from a very early age with ideas – note, I am not saying ideals – situations and results which are far from real. If you think it is not socially acceptable to go around kicking and destroying to get something (although as a society we do. Look at all the wars and fighting going on as I type this) particularly if that behaviour comes from a child.

Yes, you got it. Most likely the child will be labelled. And those labels will damp the ideals we try so hard to imprint on them either from home or school.

How did the story of the costume ended, you may wonder? Well, my partner found a pyjama with “Batman” embodied. So, my little one wore his Batman pj’s over layers of thermals plus a Batman coat with a hoodie that worked as a mask.

No need to say that he never understood how could he possibly be wearing his pj’s to go to school (he tried to have a say on the matter) and when I went to pick him up and asked him how did his day go, he shrunk his shoulders and say “everybody was wearing pyjamas”.