Wednesday, January 8, 2014

What Did You Learn Today?


After one day back at the routine of classes and school work, we took a break to enjoy a fun hike with friends and their new puppy. It was really a fabulously joyful morning with lots of chatter, running, and play. Energy! Joy! The fun reached its peak when we found a rope swing that was just a bit too high for the kids to get on and off easily and they each ended up giggling while struggling to stay attached and invariably simultaneously dragging a body part through the dust. Good friends, wonderful fun. It was a morning that made me feel rich in all the ways that matter most.

Later, we were asked unexpectedly, "what did they learn from doing that?" The girls and I looked at each other blankly and stammered, "uh... Alligator lizard identification? Red Tailed hawk habitat understanding?" Our questioner scoffed, correctly, "but you already knew that!"

The question remained with me and I processed various accurate answers internally. Playing with friends who have great imaginations brings so much rich learning, not facts, but Executive Function, which studies have found is missing in children who spend too much time in organized activities. Watching these kids create games and then hold themselves accountable to the rules that they co-create clearly shows their developing abilities in this area. The use of imagination in play is itself a worthy endeavor and many experts have posited that those with the ability to be creative and envision new worlds through imagination will hold the keys to the future, so I was confident that their activities were worthy from that perspective. Being at home in the outdoors, resilient to and uncomplaining about changing weather and capable of navigating various hazards are other often unacclaimed skills that could help to sustain their futures and teach them to be at home in various settings. That resilience, wisdom, and flexibility is certainly something I want for them.   And we were together, playing outside, creating a memory that I hope will inform strong family relationships for several lifetimes.

And yet, while all of these thoughts resonated with accuracy, it was a later email exchange with two parents that my greater truth was revealed about why this morning felt so rich. We have been part of a fabulous day of classes for the past four years and as the kids grow, the lead organizer has been assessing why the program works, inviting feedback about where we want it to grow. This has led to interesting conversations about what we most want for our kids and the best way to get there. In the midst of a rich exchange that was future oriented and certainly both wise and thoughtful, one of the parents raised an important point: what if what we are planning for isn't the future, but the present? What if we looked at our kids not as works-in-progress, but as already fully complete? In that case, the real richness of that hiking and playing day came not from learning of any particular kind, but from joy itself.

If joy is the point, then the lesson is one of appreciation, of living in the present, of being fully aware and alive and tuned in to the incredible beauty of this one day, one hike, one moment. Certainly, in reflection I happily speculate that this experience will likely inform future experiences, teaching the habit of joyfulness as a worthy endeavor. But that revelation came after the experience, the question, the conversation, and the reflection. On the day of the hike, joy itself clearly was the point. For that I am grateful.

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