It is commonly assumed that young children have very short attention spans and must be taught concentration, also known as the mental faculty of Will. As parents, we become increasingly concerned about our child's ability to sustain focus on an activity as s/he approaches school age. An internet search for "help children concentrate" will yield numerous websites with all manner of attention-grabbing and often worrying headlines, such as:
Is your child really ready for school?
Advice abounds regarding how to encourage children to sit still at a table and complete an inane assignment and how to break the news that sometimes we must all do things that we don't enjoy. These types of exercises, while they may or may not transform a lively child into a quiet, docile student, take a very narrow view of concentration and do not address the real nature of the human will.
Concentration is not the ability to complete dull tasks which are unappealing and irrelevant to the unique nature of the child in question. Rather, it is the ability to focus all of one's mental energy with precision in a deliberate way for however long it takes to complete the experience. A small child will engage in sustained, self-directed play for its own sake until s/he is finished, while an older child may strive to achieve specific ends of his/her choosing. The child's own interest is its cornerstone. It is a function of the conscious mind, and this application to task is easily transferable from one context to another and from childhood to adulthood. It supports creativity and independence rather than mere conformity to social or environmental norms, and it is vital for young children from birth to age 7 to have plenty of freedom to develop this faculty. Giving them the time and space to explore their world as preschoolers will serve them well throughout the lifespan.
The following article, based on the theories of Maria Montessori, has brilliant ideas and links for parents who are seeking guidance about how best to nurture their preschool-aged child's will in an age-appropriate way:
We also love this video of a little boy who is thoroughly absorbed in and entertained by a few simple items that may be found in any kitchen. If this isn't concentration, I don't know what is!
Just as we saw earlier when we looked in-depth at the faculty of Reason, a child exercising will and an adult exercising will can be radically different things. Children are living in a primarily physical world dominated by sensation and movement, while adults engage moreso with the invisible world of thoughts and the intellect. Our job as caregivers is to meet children where they are and provide an environment that promotes developmentally-appropriate stimulation and opportunities.
Wednesday, 18 February 2015
Please find below a list of resources that we have used and consult regularly as we progress through our parenting journey. We find them useful with regard to general parenting issues as well as strategies that are useful for developing the six mental faculties. Hopefully, you will also find some gems among them that speak to you personally. We will continue to add more to this list over time, so do check back for updates!
The Artist’s Way for Parents by Julia Cameron
Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
You Are Your Child’s First Teacher by Rahima Baldwin Dancy
Frames of Mind by Howard Gardner, Ph.D.
The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales by Bruno Bettelheim
Endangered Minds: Why Children Don't Think - and What We Can Do About It by Jane M. Healy, Ph.D.
The Absorbent Mind by Maria Montessori
Secrets of Childhood by Maria Montessori
The Absorbent Mind by Maria Montessori
Secrets of Childhood by Maria Montessori
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead by Brené Brown
The Power of Positive Talk: Words to Help Every Child Succeed by Douglas Bloch, M.A. with Jon Merritt, M.S.
Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness With Children by Thich Nhat Hanh
YogaKids – Educating the Whole Child through Yoga by Marsha Wenig
Buddhism for Mothers by Sarah Napthali
The Strangest Secret by Earl Nightingale
Rays of the Dawn by Dr. Thurman Fleet
You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay
Young At Art by Susan Striker
Infant Massage by Vimala McClure
Sign With Your Baby: How to Communicate with Infants Before They Can Speak by Joseph Garcia
Everyday Blessings: Mindfulness for Parents by Jon and Myla Kabat-Zinn
Each Breath a Smile by Thich Nhat Hanh and Sister Thuc Nghiem
Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
All I See is Part of Me by Chara M. Curtis
I Think, I Am! by Louise Hay
The Anti-Colouring Book Series by Susan Striker
Relax Kids: Aladdin's Magic Carpet by Marneta Viegas
The Pig of Happiness by Edward Monkton
Sunday, 16 March 2014
JUNO is a natural parenting magazine that inspires and supports families through its range of features, columns and artwork. Established in 2003, it is published four times a year, in March, June, September and December. The editorial is broad, covering all aspects of family life for all ages. JUNO is loved by many readers for its articles that share personal experiences and reflections, and for the beautiful and striking images and illustrations from a range of artists.
JUNO offers fresh perspectives in this fast-paced technological world, creating a non-judgmental community for those who are keen to follow "a natural approach to family life." There are columns on home education, empowered birth, teens and nutrition; interviews, craft and recipe ideas and a mix of features that can help readers make informed choices as they journey through the challenges of parenting.
Sunday, 9 March 2014
Childhood is Unique
Traditionally, Japanese Buddhists have believed that when a child is conceived and born, he only gradually comes into being throughout life in the womb and the first seven years of life thereafter. It is as though the spirit, or essence, of the person is poured into the vessel of the body slowly the way one pours a drink into a glass, and the child is not considered complete until this process of becoming concludes. This child under age seven is referred to as a “mizuko,” or water child. He is liquid, lacking a definite shape and structure, easily assuming one form after another and difficult, if not impossible, to contain.
Far away, in another part of the world during the early 20th century, an Austrian philosopher named Rudolf Steiner articulated a strikingly similar belief as he studied child development and eventually became one of the most influential authorities on childhood education in the Western world. Steiner posited that the young child was a spiritual being who begins progressively to inhabit the body at birth. Throughout the first seven years of life, the child slowly learns to control the physical body, to interpret its sensory stimulation and to distinguish a self, an individual, who is unique and separate from others. Steiner referred to this process as “incarnating,” and he believed the incarnating child to be fundamentally different from an adult in the way that he experiences the world, thinks about the world and learns from the world around him. We may liken this to a blossoming flower which progresses steadily from tightly closed bud to full bloom according to its own mysterious timetable. To Steiner, each stage of the child’s emerging selfhood was of vital importance and needed to be explored and expressed fully in order for the child ultimately to flourish and reach adult consciousness. Attempting to rush through or side-step these stages would, he believed, result in a maladjusted and deficient adulthood.
When we are considering the six higher faculties, and in particular the faculty of reason, this concept of the mizuko or incarnating child can be a very useful one. Whether or not we espouse the particular spiritual traditions mentioned above, we must appreciate the fact that the child’s perception of things and events is entirely different from our own adult understanding, and so it should be. Children are not merely miniature adults, and their own awareness and experience is just as valid as, although different from, our own. They are not wrong for thinking and feeling the way they do. It is not a problem that needs redress. We are the ones who wrong them when we attempt to force them to think, act, feel and learn as we do. Therefore, we must begin this chapter by letting go of our conditioned selves, forgetting about all of the “shoulds” with which we plague ourselves as parents and try to see the world through their eyes, becoming small children once more.
Relaxation Exercise – Early Childhood
Most of us have unclear and/or incomplete memories of early childhood, but many things can help you to jog your memories of your own childhood and recall the strange lens through which children typically view the world, the dreamlike, Alice in Wonderland effect of youth. Mental focus is invariably clearest and easiest when both body and mind are relaxed, so allow yourself to have a few quiet, calm moments in a place and time when you are unlikely to be disturbed. It may help you to think of your small children. The things our children do and say may often give us a flash, a brief and instantaneous glimpse of our own lives gone past. Bring an artifact from your childhood with you to your relaxation area: an old photograph of yourself and/or your family, a treasured toy from your past, a sniff of your grandmother’s perfume, a cozy blanket, the taste of what was once your favourite ice cream or soda pop, an old record or cassette tape of a special song. Have this item to hand before beginning your relaxation and visualization exercise.
Ensure that you are sitting or lying down comfortably, that your spine is aligned centrally and that you feel gently and fully supported. Close your eyes if you wish, or allow them to rest, gazing lightly down at a single point on the floor. Take a deep abdominal breath in through the nose, and sigh it out heavily, expelling all the air from your lungs. Do this a few more times, and as you sigh out the breath allow your muscles to let go of any tension. Let gravity draw everything down into a relaxed state. Let go of any muscles that may be clenching or tightening: your forehead, your eyes, your cheeks, your neck and shoulders, your belly and back. Allow your limbs to be limp and loose. Feel them becoming heavier and heavier. Let your mind release any thoughts that arise without judgment, gently bringing your awareness back to your breath as your abdomen rises and falls. Remaining awake and alert, cast your mind back through the years. Recall the house where you used to live, or perhaps to a friend’s or relative’s house where you frequently spent time, prior to age six. You may be able to remember a specific event, such as a birthday party or a Christmas morning, or your memories may be more in the form of sensory or emotional impressions. Whatever comes to you, try to accept it graciously and without judgment. Be with it for a time, and search for its various facets and dimensions, shades and hues to see what insights you can glean from it.
I can recall when I was around four years old and took a journey in an airplane for the first time. My family was flying from our home in Philadelphia down to West Memphis, where my aunt and uncle had just welcomed their first child into the family. I can imagine that there must have been an exciting build up to this event. I am sure that my parents told me and my two brothers that we would be flying up in the sky in an enormous aircraft among the birds and the clouds. There was such excitement! I can remember my parents having to work hard to contain my two year old baby brother during the flight. I felt a bit giddy. I could see clouds out the window and tiny houses down below. I had no point of reference from which to comprehend this experience. It was completely new and unknown. When we arrived, and for the duration of our stay, the giddy and slightly unsteady feeling remained with me. You see, while everyone had prepared me for the idea of going up in the sky, no one ever thought to tell me that we would be landing on solid ground again! My impression was that we had gone through the clouds and up to some other level above what could be seen from Philadelphia. I literally thought that I was walking on air, in some kind of heaven or on another plane of existence. Thus my other-worldly feeling. From then on for some time after we returned home, I would always think of West Memphis when I looked up into the sky, searching for a glimpse of it in amongst the wispy clouds, but it was gone without a trace.
This memory illustrates that the unconditioned mind of a child can interpret events and phenomena in a manner which to us seems surreal, wildly imaginative or perhaps even ludicrous. The dream-like state which characterizes much of children’s thoughts and experience is not, however, synonymous with imagination, which will be discussed at length in another post. This is a child’s mind attempting to make sense of new experiences for which she as yet has no template, no paradigms.
Learning About Reason from the Experts
Webster’s Dictionary defines reason as, “the power of the mind to think and understand in a logical way.” However, now that you have had an opportunity to see through a child’s eyes to a certain extent, you will be able to appreciate that a child’s ability to reason is nothing like what we experience in adulthood as logic. A young child’s capacity to reason is very much a work in progress. It is a construction zone, and the project is still a long way from completion. Just as the construction of a house requires bricks and mortar, we need certain resources to build the mind. Our job as parents is to facilitate the development of reason by acquiring the materials necessary for the building. You may be surprised to learn that these raw materials, far from being mental exercises involving workbooks, pencils and flashcards, are actually sensory experiences. For more detail on this surprising concept, we will turn to one of the leading authorities on developmental psychology, Jean Piaget.
Jean Piaget was a Swiss psychologist who postulated that children progress through four distinct stages of cognitive development. That is, development of their thinking. At each stage, the child thinks in a fundamentally different way. Piaget’s theory, first published in the 1920’s, revolutionized our understanding of children and the ways in which they learn by revealing that children are not simply adding to a knowledge base throughout childhood, but their thinking processes themselves are also evolving over the years, finally achieving the type of logical reasoning with which we are familiar as adults. Prior to Piaget’s time, many of the predominant theories envisioned the child as an empty vessel that a teacher must fill with knowledge. Piaget challenged this with his ground-breaking assertion that children are “little scientists” who must be active in experimenting with and exploring their world in order to construct knowledge and understanding from the inside out. According to Albert Einstein, Piaget's discovery was "so simple only a genius could have thought of it."
Below is a brief summary of Piaget’s four stages of development and the characteristics of children’s thinking during each.
Sensorimotor Stage: Birth – age 2
The baby’s world consists of sensory stimulation and motor activities. At first, babies cannot distinguish between self and others or surroundings, and their movements are primarily primitive reflexes, such as sucking and grasping. They quickly progress, however, to imitation, and as they absorb cause and effect relationships, their movements become much more purposeful. A major achievement of this stage is object permanence – understanding that an object continues to exist even though it can no longer be seen. This represents the beginning of symbolic thought.
Preoperational Stage: Ages 2 – 7
Symbolic thought increases, as evidenced by the emergence of language and imaginative play. However, this stage is characterized by egocentrism, meaning that the child is unable to comprehend the perspective of others. Preoperational children also do not understand conservation. For example, they cannot understand that if a lump of play doh is squashed, the quantity of play doh remains the same, despite its changed appearance.
Concrete Operational Stage: Ages 7 – 11
Children begin to apply some forms of logic, such as inductive reasoning, when considering concrete situations in the physical world. Many games have been developed to capitalize on the elementary school child’s burgeoning reasoning skills, such as Guess Who? and Clue, as they can now focus on more than one aspect of a problem simultaneously. A major feature of this stage is mastery of the concept of reversibility. That is, an understanding that actions can be reversed. Children become less egocentric and more sociocentric
Formal Operational Stage: Ages 11+
Manipulation of ideas, not just objects, is the primary feature of one’s progression into the formal operational stage. The child matures into a young adult who is capable of applying logic and deductive reasoning and to think about abstract concepts. They can now cope with considering hypothetical situations and outcomes of which they may not have firsthand experience. This results in greater planning and problem-solving skills.
The MindFull Child Studio is mainly focused on the Sensorimotor and Preoperational Stages, and Piaget believed that during these stages, children’s logic consists mainly of trial and error. They learn by doing things, and ultimately after many repetitions, they begin to remember and to anticipate the results of their actions. The child begins by experimenting with concrete objects, and later moves from this foundation into the world of abstract thoughts and ideas.
Piaget’s theories have not been totally beyond reproach in scholarly circles. Much of this criticism revolves around the fact that Piaget’s studies were not cross-cultural in nature and that he only studied children who were from upper-middle class backgrounds. Therefore, his findings theoretically may not be universally applicable to all children. Some researches have also asserted that children progress through certain substages at an earlier age than Piaget originally hypothesized. Nevertheless, Piaget’s staged model of cognitive development remains the most comprehensive we have to date, and its influence is still strong today within the fields of education and psychology alike. Moreover, Piaget’s belief in the primacy of active learning and sensory experience for young children has been corroborated by a long list of other highly respected educators, philosophers and researchers.
Even as far back as 1840, Friedrich Fröbel, a German teacher, based his approach on the notion that activity, games and educational materials such as building blocks, which he called Fröbel Gifts, should form the basis for preschool education. He was one of the first to assert that children have learning needs and abilities which are dissimilar from those of adults. He coined the term “kindergarten” and is considered one of the fathers of modern education.
Maria Montessori, the internationally reknowned Italian educator who developed her philosophy of education during the early 20th century, also based her approach heavily on the importance of sensory experiences, manipulation of objects, child choice in play and practical activities associated with home life, such as tidying up and organizing. To this end, she developed specialized play equipment with which students may play uninterrupted for blocks of time. Like her contemporary Rudolf Steiner, she recognized that the child under the age of six has learning needs that are unique and distinct from those of older elementary school aged children and adolescents and that they therefore require a different teaching methodology entirely. Her views also coincided with Jean Piaget’s in that her approach was constructivist. That is, she believed that children construct their own knowledge of the world by working directly with materials, rather than through teacher instruction. This methodology is sometimes described as a discovery model.
Steiner himself, known worldwide for being the founding influence in the Steiner Waldorf Schools movement, also observed and studied children carefully and developed a theory that has a common thread. He believed that every human being is comprised of three major systems: the metabolic/will/limb system, the heart/lung/middle rhythmic system, and the nerve/sense/head system. All of the systems must function throughout the lifespan, but each system is dominant during one of three seven-year phases. During the first seven years of life, the metabolic/will/limb system is dominant. As a result, this stage is characterized by seemingly unlimited energy. The body’s metabolic system, which converts food into energy, drives this process. The phenomenal rate of growth that takes place during these early years is fueled by metabolism, and like restless animals children have an insatiable impulse to indulge in movement of all kinds. Parents often remark without exaggeration that their toddlers keep them fit, and it's no wonder! Onlookers often observe, "I don't know where he gets the energy. I get tired just looking at him!" Their assessment is accurate because at no other time throughout life is this system as influential. Young children run, jump, skip, twirl, tumble, roll and climb, reveling in movement for it’s own sake. They express through their activity the inner workings of a rapidly growing and changing body, and this exercise is a vital component in the strengthening and stretching of muscles, the hardening of bone and the development of motor skills as well as laying the foundation for cognitive skills. As a natural consequence, Steiner asserted that children from birth through age 7 learn best through self-directed play, movement and imitation of adult behaviours. Steiner's framework differs from Piaget's, but the conclusions he draws are the very same.
Trends in contemporary research into child development and education continue to emphasize the central role of sensory experience and an active approach to learning. Harvard University’s Howard Gardner, originator of the theory of multiple intelligences, has stated that, “The chain is long and complex, but it need not be mysterious: the roots of the highest regions of logical, mathematical, and scientific thought can be found in the simple actions of young children upon the physical objects in their worlds.” (p. 129) First published in 1983, Gardner’s theory has become widely accepted by many educators worldwide as a basis for discussions around students’ diverse learning styles and how they can be accommodated in the classroom. His model advocates a shift away from schooling’s traditionally narrow focus on so-called I.Q. and teaching methodologies that cater almost exclusively to the Linguistic and Logical-Mathematical Intelligences, requiring learners mainly to sit, listen and memorize to the detriment of other capacities such as Bodily-Kinaesthetic and Musical Intelligences.
In fact, the philosophies of all of these pre-eminent scholars in the field of child development, though they may differ in many respects, intersect on this one point: a child’s cognitive skills can only be developed through exploring and manipulating objects in the physical world and through sensory experience – sight, sound, touch, taste, smell and movement. They would all agree that our modern emphasis on encouraging children under the age of six or seven to sit at tables for long periods of time to be taught their ABC’s and 123’s is developmentally inappropriate. Surely, we can safely speculate that they would be likewise opposed to small children being hypnotically mesmerized by a computer screen for hours on end purportedly to achieve the same goal.
This may seem completely counterintuitive to us, but refer again to Dr. Thurman Fleet’s stick figure and our mind-body system. As far as reason and preschoolers are concerned, it is actually the body which takes pride of place. The body provides the data which, over time and repeated exposure, the mind ultimately converts into an understanding of the most basic principles of our world. What appears to be merely physical development of the child actually doubles as the basis for intellectual development. We read in Chapter 1 that the doors of the subconscious mind are wide open beginning at birth and throughout the first five or six years of life. It cannot discern between good and bad. The child absorbs virtually everything and begins to create lasting paradigms or concepts around which messages it receives most frequently. Gradually, it begins to recognize which concepts fit the existing patterns and which do not. Over time, it learns to discriminate, accepting those ideas which are in harmony with the predominant thoughts which surround the child and rejecting those which are not. It is a simple survival mechanism. We find that the senses perform in much the same way during the early years. Rahima Baldwin Dancy points out that, “The senses are completely open, without filters or buffers, beginning at the moment of birth. The newborn continues to experience each sensation with her entire body and being. . . We can even observe that children’s eyes stay open longer between blinking than do an adult’s. Two things are happening through sense impressions from birth through age seven. The child is both learning about the world and being shaped by the impressions she takes in, just as a sculptor might work with clay.”
Naturally, there are a multitude of books and websites dedicated to exploring the above mentioned and other theories of child development, but the most important thing to highlight from our perspective is the consensus that has been reached around the connection between early sensory and hands-on experience to the development of thinking skills. Of course, individual differences apply. Some children are boisterous while others are mild mannered. Regardless of their temperaments, however, all youngsters need to play freely and to engage their senses in order to develop cognitive skills. Picture the baby who drops food on the floor from atop the high chair over and over again. He is learning through repetition all about gravity (“The food always goes down. It never comes up.”), texture (“Cookies crumble, but mashed potatoes go splat.”), trajectory (“Wow, it splashed all over the wall this time!”), not to mention the taste, smell and feeling of the food squashed between his fingers and smeared all over his cheeks. It is a veritable symphony for the senses. One might best ask, What isn’t he learning?
The Emergence of Reason: What Helps, What Hinders
If sensory experiences, which come to us essentially free of charge, are all it takes to enable children to develop their reasoning faculty, why are we as parents inundated with books, websites, flashcards and academic preschools that promise to accelerate learning and give our toddlers and preschoolers a leg up prior to elementary school? For starters, of course, all of the aforementioned cost money, which means that someone is raking it in! Publishers on both the print and virtual platforms are not exactly altruistic charities working to improve the plight of humanity. They are businesses, and their goal is to make money. Among the key marketing strategies they use are employing fear and guilt, emotions which are often irresistible to parents as they are already deeply embedded into our subconscious minds. They ply us with nightmare scenarios of children failing on tests, feeling inferior or stupid, and falling behind the rest of their peers. They prey on our deepest, darkest fears, and without knowledge of the staged development theory of Piaget and the philosophies of Montessori, Steiner and a host of other authorities in the field, their product appears to make perfect sense. It seems logical that teaching children to read, write, spell and complete sums at age 4 would enable them to learn more over time than they would if they began at age 6 or 7. Yet we have seen that toddlers’ and preschoolers’ thinking is qualitatively different to that of an elementary school-aged child. They simply are not capable of the symbolic thought necessary to master reading skills and numeracy in a meaningful way, and there is a growing body of research which suggests that academic “hothousing” of preschoolers is actually a causal factor in the emergence of reading difficulties later on. Once we learn about and accept the theories of the experts, it becomes clear to us that manipulating 2D images on a computer screen or within the confines of workbook pages can never substitute for the knowledge that children construct by experimenting with concrete objects in the real world.
Nevertheless, these fear tactics are so effective because our innocent preschoolers are only a few short years away from entering a State schooling system which is based primarily on a competitive model. Children are pitted against each other in a pseudo-rivalry which emphasizes scarcity, rather than abundance, of ability. In order for one child to succeed, another must fail. In order for my child to make the honour role, yours must be in detention. There is a growing tendency for parents to be suspicious of teachers and to view them as adversaries. School days, learning and childhood are increasingly viewed not as valuable in and of themselves but only inasmuch as they translate into university acceptance and respected professions at a later point in life. In contrast, we at the MindFull Child Studio believe that children have a right to childhood and that a fully experienced, appreciated and happy childhood, which honours the child’s development appropriately as it progresses through the stages, provides the solid foundation necessary for genuine understanding, a positive and strong sense of self and the motivation and diversity of interests to sustain life-long learning.
It is also worth noting that political agendas have replaced scholarship as the basis for our mandatory state schooling model. Our school curricula are not based on best practice as determined by the most well-respected child development experts of our time but by politicians’ changeable and highly suspect notions of what it will take for our country to compete successfully with others in the global economy. These politicians are not, by and large, educators who understand how children learn best, and their motives are unfortunately dubious at best. They may talk the talk, expounding the virtues of discovery methods, diverse learning styles and hands-on approaches, but when it comes to funding schools to provide the resources and small class sizes it would take to achieve this dream come true, they are nowhere to be found. Too many idealistic, wide-eyed, newly qualified teachers graduate from university eager to employ play-based and constructivist teaching methodologies only to be hired to teach 30+ children with a handshake, a stack of textbooks and a standardized test on which their performance will be judged at the end of the school year.
Yet our school system is not the only aspect of our society which has engaged in an assault against early childhood. The culture of fear with which we live day in and day out clouds parents’ judgment and makes it challenging for us to follow our instincts and recognize what our children really need. Our consumer-driven preoccupation with safety, combined with our fast-paced, overscheduled lifestyles, creates a lack of opportunity for our youngest children to perform and practice the gross motor skills that are so integral to both their physical and mental development. Babies and toddlers are typically tied down and strapped into various chairs and safety devices all day long. They go from car seat to stroller to high chair to jumperoo to exersaucer, too often without ample freedom to lie down on their backs and tummies kicking their legs and flapping their arms and experiencing the thrilling sensation of movement. In the interest of safety, and for fear of somehow spoiling them, we place babies to sleep in cages far from the warmth and loving embrace of a parent, separated from all human contact and vivid sensory experience throughout the many and frequent hours of infant sleep.
Moreover, children too often are not allowed simply to get dirty in our modern, high-tech society. With two working parents, many families may struggle to come up with the time and energy for the extra laundry and housework that playing youngsters may create and prefer that their children not need to change as a result of messy art or outdoor activities. We would rather they engage in simulated play in the virtual world of smartphones and electronic games, as it keeps them and the house both quiet and tidy. Our culture also has us brainwashed into being terrified of disease and dirt, so much so that many parents are horrified when they see their poor child covered in mud, certain that he will get sick from the cold, the wet or the germs. Inevitably, we are faced with this contradiction: We are happy to spend a fortune on so-called “educational toys,” yet we fail to provide the most basic and most valuable kind of stimulation of all, sensory experience and experimentation, which incidentally comes to us absolutely free of charge.
The MindFull Child knows that the mind and body are inextricably linked. Injury to one results in injury to the other, and benefit to one results in benefit to the other. We must free our children’s bodies in order to free their minds! Here are some practical steps you can take in order to encourage your child’s natural development of reason during the early childhood years and avoid getting in its way.
1. Pre-walking babies need to experience the thrill of movement, to exercise their limbs and discover all of the amazing body parts that belong to them and are under their control. Give them periods of time throughout the day when they can lie safely on a soft mat to kick, stretch, wave, flap, shake, flail and rock. Stay close to them and enjoy this as a bonding time rather than leaving them to stare at a mobile or other inanimate object in a playpen or crib. Learning baby massage techniques is another way of stimulating your baby’s senses, providing tender caresses, calming songs and the treasured presence and undivided attention of a beloved caregiver.
2. Self-selected and self-directed play is absolutely integral to your child’s cognitive development. Review your family’s schedule to discover when and how you can make blocks of time of at least an hour and a half per day available to your child for the freedom to play spontaneously. Remember that you need not feel pressured to entertain your child per se. As long as your home is adequately child-proofed, he can safely find items that are endlessly fascinating to explore and manipulate while you are nearby. You can feel free to talk to your child about the shape, size and colour of objects, how they work and what one can do with them, and even to narrate as you stack the blocks or collect all the crayons. Abundant language input is clearly beneficial, but there is no need to turn your home into a schoolroom. Simply experimenting freely with a variety of objects is what a child likes to do best. Give them the time they need to repeat activities over and over again. They may pull all the clothes out of the drawer and put them back in again a hundred times a day. The purpose of this is not to frustrate you and crease your favourite shirt! They learn through imitation and repetition. This is perfectly normal, healthy learning behaviour and can be celebrated as such.
3. Try to resist the urge to use all of your child’s free play time as an opportunity to “get things done” around the house. Too often, we are under so much pressure as parents with our busy schedules that we don’t take the time simply to be and play with our children without any agenda. Whenever possible, try simply to take a walk without running errands, popping into the shops or going to the bank. Take some time just to sit alongside your child as he plays. He may not be talking to you. In fact, he may not appear to notice you at all. Yet parallel play is normal and natural for toddlers and preschoolers. This means that they play side by side, but without necessarily interacting in meaningful ways. They don’t play with each other as older children do. Yet they are keenly aware and appreciative of your supportive, loving presence even when they don’t acknowledge it.
4. Children need to get down and dirty in order to experience fully the wonderful world of tactile stimulation, but as we mentioned, a mountain of laundry may await you, especially if you have several children. There are many ways to minimize this problem so that it doesn’t deter you from letting your kids get muddy or covered in paint. Long-sleeved aprons for arts and crafts are readily available, as are long-sleeved bibs which easily wipe clean or can be machine washed. Consider keeping a box full of “messy clothes” that your kids are allowed to get dirty and don’t necessarily need to be washed after each wear. Thrift shops are an excellent resource for finding inexpensive and often quality children’s clothing, usually for no more than $2 or $3 a piece. Ensure that you have the all-weather gear necessary to get out and get active, whatever the day brings. This may include puddle suits and wellies, snow pants and snow boots, or sun cream and hats, depending on your location.
5. Toddlers and preschoolers often enjoy noisy games which may drive us crazy as adults. They are fascinated with their voices and the plethora of different tones, whistles, garbles, moans and groans, trills, nonsense syllables and volumes they can create. They also feel the urge to experiment with the wide variety of sounds that can be produced by hitting, stroking, banging and tossing everyday items in their environments. Seven o’clock in the evening after a long, hard day’s work may not be your favourite time to enjoy this brilliant cacophony, yet we must take care not to admonish our children for everything. Ensure that they know that there is an appropriate time and place to be noisy. Taking a stroll through town, having a run around the back garden or going on a nature walk can often help children to engage in this busy work and let off a little bit of steam. Establishing a daily rhythm to your home life is also helpful so that children sense alternating periods of raucous play and calm times for storybooks, quiet games and naps. Also, consider exposing your children to a wide variety of musical styles. Music and dance are some of the purest expressions of the soul and can enable children creatively to channel their boundless energy. You will notice how they instinctively skip, hop and jump to an Irish jig, float like ballerinas to the melody of classical strings, stamp their feet and clap their hands to a Spanish flamenco and joyfully shout, sway and stomp along to the rhythm of African percussion. Music invites us to celebrate the voice and the body. Give them the opportunity to express and experience the music spontaneously and to show off their moves to all the family.
6. If possible, keep your children at home with a parent or other loving caregiver, or in a play-based preschool environment, until they reach age six. Do not try to teach them to read or perform computation. It is very difficult if not impossible to avoid all of the workbooks and flashcards on the market. From the bookshops to the libraries to the magazine racks in the supermarket, they seem to be ubiquitous. Even if you do not purchase them for your children, you can be sure that an aunt, grandparent or friend with the best of intentions will be buying them for you! There is no need to stow them away in a secret location or sneak them out to the dumpsters when no one is looking. It’s all in the way that you use them. If your child shows an interest in them, there is absolutely no harm in having some lighthearted fun with any sort of books or learning materials, but do let your child take the lead. Forcing an uninterested child to sit at a table struggling with concepts he cannot understand is not productive or gratifying for anyone. If your expectation is enjoyment rather than achievement, everybody wins.
7. Consider purchasing toys which are made from natural materials, such as cotton, wool, silk and wood. Natural toys nurture the child’s senses and convey warmth and calm. Contrast the appeal of a soft rag doll with a hard, plastic, mass-produced plastic one. Many parents are easily deterred by the price tags that accompany some natural toys, but keep in mind that children do not require huge quantities of toys. Moreover, toys which are crafted carefully with attention to detail are inviting and will be played with more. They are also incredibly durable even in the hands of the most energetic children and will probably outlast childhood, ready to be passed down to a younger sibling, cousin or neighbour. Our consumer-driven culture convinces us that children need to receive overwhelming numbers of toys for holidays and birthdays in order to feel loved, but this could not be further from the truth. Often, toy boxes and shelves are piled high with toys that our children rarely see, let alone use. Besides, the more time you spend outdoors with your children, the less need they have for toys (and the less they will argue over them!). You will find a more detailed discussion of toys in Chapter 4, Imagination.
NEXT POST: Memory
ALSO KNOWN AS: Six Degrees of Separation
HOW CAN YOU AS A PARENT FACILITATE YOUR CHILD’S DEVELOPING MEMORY IN AN AGE-APPROPRIATE WAY?
HAVE YOUR SAY! Do you have anything to add to what you have just read? Please comment below, and join the dialogue!
Thursday, 20 February 2014
(This image was originally developed by Dr. Thurman Fleet.)
The Conscious and Subconscious Minds
Down through the generations, countless writers, scientists, world leaders and philosophers have discussed and alluded to the power of the mind. Time and again, from such diverse sources as the emperors of the ancient Roman world and the 20th century writings of Albert Einstein, people who have understood the inner workings of the mind and how to harness its magnificent complexity have endeavoured to share their revelations with anyone who would listen. Yet, bafflingly, this information remains largely misunderstood and firmly outside the mainstream. If you were to mention the subconscious mind, for example, to any number of people in your town on any given day, you would likely be met by most with skepticism or perhaps even contempt. The very same people who proclaim deep religious faith or unwavering belief in the cult of science and technology will often dismiss such talk as some sort of “New Age philosophy” or “hippie dippie nonsense.” Yet many of our most revered spiritual and scientific luminaries, including the Buddha and Sir Isaac Newton, expressed in their own ways a deep awareness of the vital importance of the mind to all human accomplishments. Our inexplicable refusal to accept the gift of the human mind, a birthright given freely to all human beings, is precisely the reason why most people strive for conformity rather than using the power of the mind to determine and pursue their own personally defined vision of success and happiness.
When we began to read and study the subject of the mind and its infinite potential, my husband and I decided we couldn’t but embrace this precious gift wholeheartedly, putting it to work in our own lives to improve our well-being and circumstances, and facilitate our children’s awareness and development of this immense power from a very early age. This naturally formed the basis for The MindFull Child Studio, so this blog, like our journey, starts by investigating the anatomy of the mind. Just as the physical body has component parts that work harmoniously together as a whole, the mind, too, is comprised of distinct, albeit interrelated and interdependent entities, each with its own functions and responsibilities. This post provides a brief description of the two principal parts of the mind, namely the conscious and subconscious, and later posts will explain in detail each of the six mental faculties which, like muscles, one needs to exercise in order to engage the mind effectively.
The conscious mind is, just as the name suggests, the part of our minds of which we are largely aware. Medical science tells us that a baby responds to and recognizes his/her mother’s voice at birth. We also know that amniotic fluid in the womb tastes differently depending on what the expectant mother has eaten, variations which can be detected by the pre-born infant. These are just a few clear indications that even before birth we are conscious of sensations and surroundings, and memory and expectation are beginning to develop. All of the mental activity of which we are aware takes place within the conscious mind. Decision-making of all kinds, from what you will prepare for dinner to where you will live and work, is the remit of the conscious mind. We decide upon major issues, such as our life goals and ambitions, as well as more trivial ones, such as choosing between Chutes and Ladders and Candy Land on a rainy Saturday afternoon. The conscious mind is also a creative mind wherein we can claim limitless freedom and absolute control. We daydream, we imagine, we solve problems and puzzles and we have the liberty to choose whatever thoughts we want to think. Often, the conscious mind is full of vitality, bustling with a vast range of to-do lists, plans and dreams, songs and stories, gripes and grudges. We often find that we are preoccupied with the past and/or the future and are rarely fully present in our moment-to-moment experience. The conscious mind can seem excessively active and boisterous and typically lacks focus, drifting or even jumping from one thought to another incessantly. In fact, many people seek refuge from the chattering mind in various forms of meditation and mindfulness. It may be difficult for us to believe that anything or anyone could seize control over the conscious mind. Yet the subconscious is able to do just that.
The subconscious mind can be likened to a storage unit for all your life experiences, and like consciousness, its earliest foundations are laid even before birth, during life in the womb. You may not have conscious memories of your life prior to age three, but you can be certain that your subconscious indeed houses a multitude of souvenirs from your first days. They are not, however, captured in language and images as our conscious memories are. Emotions, impressions, instinct – these are the domain of the subconscious mind. Although it may seem a frightening or even abhorrent reality to some, this is a realm which is not under our direct control. Until a child reaches age six or thereabouts, the gates of the subconscious mind are wide open. The young child’s subconscious has no ability to reject incoming information. As Rahima Baldwin Dancy comments, “The baby is love. . . and trust. They [children] are not yet able to perceive good and bad, but they take everything as good and appropriate to absorb and unconsciously imitate.” As we shall see in the next post on Reason, a young child under age six does not have the ability to reason and evaluate incoming messages in the way that an adult or even an older child would. They cannot think to themselves, “I accept or reject this idea about myself or about the world because . . . “ They quite simply and innocently must accept.
Over time, the subconscious learns through pattern and repetition. Whether the child’s caregivers are loving and gentle or harsh and violent, the child’s subconscious mind has no choice but to accept the pattern of behaviour as normal and to seek out more of it. Whether the people who raise a child have an active, healthy lifestyle or exist on take-aways eaten in front of the television, the child’s mind will ultimately be in synch. Whether the child is surrounded by adults who earn money or those who are supported by social welfare, the child’s mind will take it on board. In every instance, the child’s subconscious learns through pattern and repetition over a long period of time. When the pattern has been firmly established, it becomes what is known as a paradigm. Thurman Fleet referred to these patterns as “Concepts” in his classic book on holistic healing, “Rays of the Dawn,” and developmental psychologists often refer to them as schemata. These paradigms are essentially what control an individual’s actions because the body is an instrument of the mind. The mind and body are inextricably linked, and the body expresses and manifests the contents of the mind in the physical world. Therefore, the child's behaviour will always undertake to be in harmony with her paradigms.
Once a child’s paradigms have been embedded in the subconscious mind, they are extremely difficult to remove or alter. From now on, the gates of the subconscious mind are closed, and the paradigms act as the sentinels. Only that information which is consistent with the paradigm can enter. This is, in essence, a survival mechanism. The child has acquired over time a detailed understanding of the circumstances surrounding her and can only accept information which enables her to adapt to and survive in that particular environment. Unless an entirely new pattern is established and repeated constantly over time, this mental programming will likely become a permanent fixture throughout the child’s life. Even as an adult who is capable through logical reasoning of determining what is right and wrong, desirable and undesirable, it is unlikely that she will change any of her paradigms without a serious, long-term, concentrated effort. Regardless of the conscious thoughts she may choose or decisions she may make, she will always subconsciously yearn for what is comfortable and predictable. She may become aware through experience of other lifestyles, cultures and preferences, and she may change her mind about what she likes and wants. Yet while she is thinking about those new things, her actions will always be controlled by and drawn to the subconscious paradigms.
All of us have undergone this process. As a result, most of us are living day in and day out according to paradigms that were planted in our minds when we were babies and small children. We have not been able to see them, to evaluate them, to decide to accept or reject them. Those seeds were chiefly sown by our primary caregivers, who in most cases only ever wanted the best for us and loved us madly from top to toe. Unaware of the inconceivable extent and scope of their influence, they were probably plodding along doing the best they could, as so many of us are, placing little or no emphasis on learning to wield this magnificent tool appropriately. It simply has not been considered a priority in our culture. Consequently, our minds are, at best, performing far below their capability, limited by conditioning and unable to set us free in a world filled with opportunities and all we could ever need or crave. At worst, they may actually be sabotaging our efforts to live a happier and more fulfilling life. Through the potency of the subconscious mind, we have within each of us the gift of an absolutely miraculous system of learning almost through osmosis, of passing wisdom down through the generations, if only we could ensure that the messages we are sending and the patterns we are reinforcing are the most positive and life-affirming ones we could muster! Yet all too often, its outcomes are tragic, and we do not have to look far to see the legacy of abuse, neglect and addiction that are often perpetuated within families. The reality is that we are all caught up in a spiral. We are either spiraling upward, or we are on the downward spiral. We are either living with and passing down positive paradigms or negative ones. How can we know? How can we mine the contents of the subconscious mind?
Mend Your Paradigm, Tend Your Child’s
Taking all of this into account, you may realize that you are facing the very same dilemma in which we found ourselves when we first became parents. After learning about the conscious and subconscious minds, we were able to cast an evaluative eye over our circumstances, and this new knowledge about paradigms and their prescriptive affect on our lives empowered us to recognize both our positive and negative Concepts and even in some cases to trace their influence from the earliest years when they were first planted and took root in the fertile fields of our minds. What struck me the most was that so many of my own paradigms were based on fear, terrifying fear. Fear of not having enough money (“Being a writer won’t pay the bills. I have to have a sensible job.”) Fear of what others would think of me. (“I have to have a thriving career, a comfortable lifestyle and 2.5 kids in order to be a success.”) Fear of a perceived loss of freedom and self-determination as a result of becoming a mother. (“Don’t ever have kids. They ruin your life.”) The list goes on. I began to see clearly the culture of fear that surrounds us daily and pervades every aspect of our lives today. Fear of crime, terrorism, disease, poverty. Mass media reproduces and reinforces a wide range of fear in all its gory glory all day, every day. It is no wonder that staggering numbers of us are suffering from anxiety disorders, depression and an array of physical and emotional ailments. We are being hypnotized into a perpetual fear state, which results in the creation of the very things we fear. I was shocked to learn how much of my behaviour and my life circumstances were based on unexamined and to a large extent unfounded fears.
At first glance, it may seem distressingly fatalistic and even downright worrying. The body, which is the instrument of the mind and performs deeds and actions in the physical world, takes its instructions from the subconscious, which is largely beyond our control. If our own subconscious minds are riddled with paradigms that we deem are inappropriate, we must be raising our children with those same paradigms, even though that is probably the last thing we want! What, then, can be done if we learn that our paradigms are not supportive of the kind of life we want to live, much less the legacy we want to leave our children? On the other hand, wouldn’t it be great if we could programme our children’s minds to expect success instead of failure? Wouldn’t it be extraordinary to fill their minds with concepts of freedom and joy rather than limitation and fear? Energy and motivation rather than resignation to a mundane or unsatisfying job or lifestyle?
We have all heard the familiar instructions on board an airplane that, in case of emergency, we should put on our own oxygen masks first before assisting young children. When working with the subconscious mind, it seems necessary to abide by this same sound advice. And what harm? Often, having children provides the perfect excuse and impetus for a little bit of self-improvement. This is why it is so vitally important that, as adults, we take the time to reflect, identifying and questioning all of our beliefs and assumptions. You will begin to realize as we did that whatever you want for your child, you must first give to yourself. Whatever messages you want to populate your child’s subconscious mind, you must first alter your own paradigms, choosing the patterns you want and planting them into your own subconscious through constant repetition. That is why this book is here, to enable you to change and grow both for your own benefit and in order to better parent your child.
The good news is that we do not have to become Ph.D.’s in psychology in order to effect profound and lasting changes in our mental fitness and that of our children. Many of us are working parents who are time poor. As much as we want all the best in life for our children, and as much as we may be interested in learning all we can about the mind and its limitless potential, we do not always have the time or the energy to read all of the available books and websites and attend every seminar offered on the subject. That is why The MindFull Child Studio was created: To make this crucial information available to parents just like ourselves in small, manageable, bite-sized portions, perfect for that 5 minutes of down time you might have just before you go to sleep at night or just before the kids wake in the morning. We believe that, after engaging with just a few exercises and incorporating two or three changes into your daily routine, you will begin immediately to feel happier and more relaxed, to enjoy time with your children more, and to feel reassured that you are working toward a definite goal in a purposeful manner. I will caution you that it is not an easy task. It may be the most difficult work you have ever undertaken, and it will require such persistence as you may have never utilized before. Yet the benefits you reap for yourself and your family will be in equal measure.
This is not the kind of learning with which most of us are familiar. It does not involve committing things to memory as we do in school with poems and multiplication tables in order to recite them. It is a skill which must be acquired over time through deliberate and persistent practice. It is a little bit like learning the script for a play, only you never get to see the play, you only get to read the reviews. If the reviews are shocking, you know that the script is probably not much good. Likewise, if the critics are raving about it, you know that the script is likely brilliant. In this case, the reviews are the results you are getting in your life and the situation in which you find yourself. If you can describe yourself as generally very happy, if you have a rewarding occupation and a family life that is loving, stable and harmonious, it is safe to assume that your subconscious script reads, in part, something like this: “I deserve to be happy and loved. I am in control of my life circumstances. I am grateful for all my blessings and take time to appreciate them every day. I enjoy being helpful and kind to others. I am glad I have a rewarding job that makes me feel energized. I am a confident and capable person.” Conversely, if you are not pleased with your overall situation, if you find yourself constantly at odds with family and friends and do not enjoy unconditional acceptance, if you feel that you are judgmental of others and always keeping score, if your work or career is unsatisfying or seems to sap all of your strength, it is clear that your subconscious script is not comprised of those concepts that support a happy and fulfilling life.
You’ve already taken the first step. If you weren’t before today, you are now aware. Every thought that you think is creating your life, and every word that you say is creating your child’s. When you gripe about work, when you worry about not having enough money, when you lament what might have been, when you argue about petty things with friends and loved ones, what messages are you programming into your child’s subconscious mind? Yes, parenthood is a daunting responsibility, and none of us is perfect. But we can start right here today to give them the best start in life by focusing on nurturing the mind with the same care, love and attention with which we nurture their bodies. As a mother, when you were pregnant, you did everything you could to ensure optimum nutrition and a safe, calm environment for yourself and your baby. When you nursed your newborn at your breast, you extended this protection outside the womb with the loving, affectionate caress of a breastfeeding mother. Fathers, too, put their bodies to the test as parents, as horseplay, roughhousing, piggy-back rides, endless rounds of Hide and Go Seek and trips to the beach and the playground often seal Dad’s reputation as the fun parent. Our work does not end there, however. As we give of our bodies and our hearts, let us also give of our minds and thoughts. We can change our own thinking so that we can raise our children with the paradigms we deliberately choose from day one.
To understand this, let’s complete the circle and return to the conscious mind, where we started. The conscious mind has the power to make decisions and to implement monumental shifts in our lives. We can deliberately and purposefully establish new patterns and reinforce them throughout the day, every day over weeks, months and years in order to uproot or alter any and all old, outdated paradigms which are counterproductive to our goals. Even if you are working full-time, you will be surprised to discover how much and how often you are actually able to carve out a few moments in which to practice disciplined thinking in an effort to change habitual and often negative thought patterns. While writing this book, I have used my commute to work as an opportunity to repeat short mantras, goal statements and expressions of gratitude. I have even recorded some of them as MP3’s so that I can play them through my car stereo. Even on days when I am tired and don’t feel much like thinking, I have always found that this kind of repetition soothes my mind and prepares me to meet the day ahead with a positive attitude. On my drive home, I may glance at each house I pass as I drive through the countryside and the villages, and I use my imagination to visualize who might be living there. I wonder how many of those households might benefit from The MindFull Child and how our family, joining together with so many others, will surge forward into a better future than we could have dreamt before. More detailed information on how to shift outdated or unsupportive paradigms will be explored in Post 6, Perception.
Although most of our work has been focused on parenting children under the age of six, rest assured that you can have a tremendous influence in altering your child’s paradigms and revising your own, whatever your child’s age. By initiating just three activities - setting goals for yourself and your family, implementing a daily gratitude practice, and repeating affirmations aloud to yourself and to your child throughout the day, every day - you will begin to feel and parent differently, and the entire trajectory of your family’s journey may have changed forever after just 60 days and a lot of intense yet joyful focus. You will begin to awaken to the abundance that surrounds us and tune into the opportunities that have always been right there in front of you, yours for the taking.
The posts which follow will introduce you to each of the six faculties of the mind. In addition to giving a description of each, we will provide concrete, hands-on ideas for supporting your child in each of these areas at a developmentally appropriate level and suggest useful resources that we love. Some of the activities and games we recommend are probably things you are already doing on a regular basis with your child, but we also hope to expand your repertoire to include those areas which you may have overlooked. Like you, we strive to provide age-appropriate stimulation that is practical in the long-term, does not place idealistic or unattainable demands on us as parents and empowers us to avoid resorting to screentime in all its various guises, be it television, computer, game console or mobile phone, to occupy our children’s time and energy. What we are endeavouring to do is to set a context for all of the great work you as a parent are doing with your child and to provide a coherent, unified philosophy for early childhood education in the home. As a result, you will be able to do these activities deliberately and purposefully and also communicate with your children about why you are engaging in a given activity and what they are learning from it. By bringing conscious awareness to the good you are doing, you will add more power to it. You are the best and most qualified teacher in your child’s life, and you can utilize your profound influence as role model and caregiver to provide the solid foundation of love and happiness for a life-long learning adventure on which your child will thrive for a lifetime.
None of us is required to work at instilling paradigms into our children’s subconscious minds or facilitating their development of the six mental faculties. The landscape of your child’s subconscious mind is being seeded all day, every day with or without your deliberate input, and the six faculties which were gifted to us all at birth will always be there, growing and developing whether or not you notice them at all. However, as Napoleon Hill reminds us time and again, by electing not to direct your mind toward specific ends of your own choosing, you run the serious risk of letting it slip into reverse gear. An unskilled mind will often become a negative and sluggish mind with no clearly defined goals or ambitions and no definite purpose in life. The choice is yours whether to instill the concepts and paradigms you select or to let external circumstances determine the foundations for your child’s thinking processes, and thus their outcomes in life. You can liken this to a rambling rose planted in the garden. If you leave it to its own devices growing wild, you will end up with little more than a tangled heap of thorns and twisted stems with a few blossoms here and there. Yet if you train that same plant against a trellis or fence, pruning it regularly with tender care and gentleness, the sap flows more slowly, the flowers bloom in abundance and you are rewarded with a magnificent spray of fragrant, blissful beauty to enjoy right through the season.
NEXT POST: REASON
ALSO KNOWN AS: WHY MUCKY PUDDLES ARE IDEAL EDUCATIONAL EQUIPMENT FOR MY CHILD
What is reason? How can I facilitate my child's emerging ability to reason?
HAVE YOUR SAY! Do you have anything to add to what you have just read? Please comment below, and join the dialogue!
Friday, 1 November 2013
Most parents when asked would agree that what they desire most in life for their children is that they are healthy, happy and successful. Everything a parent does, from the food choices they make for their child to the toys and games they provide for play, is motivated by one of these ideals. One of the key areas of concern for parents is their child’s education, and this is only natural. Most of us were raised with the paradigm that a high level of academic success in school would open up opportunities later in life that are not available to low achievers. High marks, we are told, will result in our child being handed the golden ticket: a place in the university and an advanced degree. Inevitably, this will lead to a productive career and a comfortable lifestyle.
As a result, many parents invest endless hours' worth of time and energy, not to mention large sums of money, sourcing educational books, toys and media designed to accelerate and enhance learning and finding schools or day care providers that offer what they deem to be a caring and stimulating environment. Especially since the advent of almost universal access to personal computers, game consoles and internet in the home, every imaginable sort of high-tech programme and app is available to make children grow up and get smarter faster, and parents are willing to spend whatever it takes in order to provide their children with a head start in academic learning and a perceived early advantage in life.
However, if we look seriously and honestly at the results yielded by this paradigm, we can easily see that it is deeply flawed. Many of us, in spite of trojan efforts to earn high grades, expensive prep schools, success on SAT’s and other achievement tests and college degrees are qualitatively not much better off than our parents before us and peers who were less ambitious. In contrast, we are all also aware of people who were labeled as “failures” at school yet went on to earn millions, as well as struggling students and high school drop-outs who later became leaders in powerful corporations. How could this be? People make a multitude of excuses. Taxes are too high, the economy is too bad. And anyway, pessimists will say, what is the alternative? Can you think of a better system?
Even the most unquestioning among us knows intuitively that it’s not students who have failed but the institution of school as a whole which has outlived its usefulness, at least in its present form. What if more reading, more math, and more, more, more of the same at ever younger ages is not the answer and, in fact, is detrimental to the evolving mind of the child and violates well-known and long-established theories of child development? What if a fundamental shift of this paradigm is what is truly required?
In our view, quite simply, the current model of mandatory attendance at a State-sponsored school is a misguided, or perhaps a purposefully misleading, effort to educate children in a way that leads to personal fulfillment and prepares them for life’s challenges and choices. Teaching small children to read at ever-younger ages or requiring adolescents to perform complicated mathematical tasks like trigonometry and calculus clearly is not an effective method by which an individual is given the tools to reach his/her full potential. While traditional schooling emphasizes the acquisition of knowledge and facts which in many cases have been arbitrarily selected or are outdated in their applicability to life in the 21st century, it does little to encourage development of the skills necessary for success and happiness for both the child’s present and future or genuinely to address the holistic nature of our humanity and the multiple intelligences.
We subscribe to a different philosophy, one which was eloquently stated by the incomparable Napoleon Hill in 1937: “An educated man is not, necessarily, one who has an abundance of general or specialized knowledge. An educated man is one who has so developed the faculties of his mind that he may acquire anything he wants, or its equivalent, without violating the rights of others. ” Hill is among many great thinkers who studied the mind and determined that it is skill development, and not knowledge of facts and dates, that precedes success and satisfaction. Everyone, from athletes to techno geeks, from bankers to bartenders, was born with six mental faculties, which must be mastered by the individual in order to achieve self-actualization. These are reason, memory, imagination, will, perception and intuition. Further, psychologists have long recognized that our earliest life experiences, prior to age six, establish mental paradigms in the subconscious mind, which can control our behaviour and our perspective throughout life even though we may not be aware of them.
When we first discovered these theories for ourselves and became excited about them, we found many different books, websites, videos and all sorts of media designed to help people to master the innate power of the mind by honing the six mental faculties and to re-program the subconscious mind, replacing negative, inaccurate or ineffective paradigms with new, self-selected, empowering ideas. We were inspired and motivated by the wide variety of tools on offer. Strangely, however, we were unable to find resources that addressed our strongest interest: How to begin helping our small children to cultivate their minds on an age-appropriate level, and how to instill in their minds the paradigms which we know will ultimately set them on a path toward freedom and personal fulfillment. Surely, it would be preferable skillfully to guide the pliable mind of a young child than to wait until a later stage and attempt to undo the damage done by unskilled conditioning.
Unable to find a unified approach to facilitating the young child’s development of these faculties, we decided to fashion one of our own and created The MindFull Child Studio in our home. It is a dynamic workshop in which we are involved in the greatest experiment of our lives, investigating, discovering and devising a plethora of ways and means through which we can parent our children and foster their development in a way that is in complete harmony with our values and ideals. Our objective is not to fill up a child’s mind with knowledge and facts but to allow the child to be filled up with him or herself; to inspire the child’s innate skills and to honour the brilliance that is already there, their birthright as human beings; and above all, not to interfere with the child’s natural learning process, but to dovetail with it seamlessly.
This is not a “learning system” like others which are sold to teach small children. We are not teaching reading, maths or any of the subjects you probably studied in school yourself. You will not find flashcards or lesson plans here, and there are no assessments of any kind other than your child’s own sense of satisfaction and happiness in life and the results s/he achieves in the real world. We invite you to explore along with us and participate in a lively, active exchange of ideas that will help our children and ultimately all children to transcend limitations and expectations and to thrive and flourish as they live their dreams.