THE WORLD IS YOUR PLAYGROUND: THINGS TO LEARN FROM CHILDREN

Hanna Karnei - Ecuador


January 11, 2017

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I spend a good deal of my time in-country with children and I learned a ton about them. For the past three months, we have been spending 20 hours a week together in kindergarten. I came there thinking that I’ll be teaching English. But honestly, I ended up doing all sorts of other things – I helped children open snacks, changed their pants if needed, swung them by the arms, and chased them around a playground pretending I’m a monster. I didn’t do much teaching. But those three- and four-year-olds did. They turned out to be brilliant teachers. They and I were at significantly different stages of life, yet they had a lot to offer to me. I tell you – by simply observing kids I’ve learned a way more than I could have learned had I read all the books and articles about child psychology.

This blog post will be about children. About the things they do. The things we stopped doing as we grew into adulthood. About qualities that we cultivated as kids but abandoned once prioritized living for the day. I truly believe children should be our role models. On a daily basis, little kids display some of the characteristics that we, adults, may not value as much anymore. Children have important lessons for us if we take care to listen. So here are the lessons I’ve learned from kids which I want to remind myself about more often.

 

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Lesson number one: THE IMPORTANCE OF PLAY. Play is healthy, and children seem to know it very well. Fooling around is a critical component of their routine; it nourishes kids’ natural curiosity and passion for learning. Children I got to know in kindergarten are really playful. They see silliness everywhere. Their giggles are contagious. The swings make them euphoric and they never really want to get off. They play with clay, paint with fingers and get their aprons dirty. They don’t care for the result. They might not create the best piece of art we’ve ever seen, but they certainly enjoy the process.

Young kids like learning from play because the world gives them credit for it. Deep down we know it’s a good way to learn. No one judges a child if she dances awkwardly or asks too many questions. We become self-conscious as we grow up. We lose this playfulness because we risk being criticized. I know this is true for me – I only act silly when I feel comfortable around people.

 

Maybe our mistake is that as we become older we don’t see a potential for play anymore, we claim it meaningless because our self-worth is pretty much tied to our productivity.

 

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Lesson number two: FIND PLEASURE IN SMALL THINGS. Kids from all walks of life pay attention to little, insignificant at first sight things that we take for granted. Leaves, rocks, rivers, sticks – for a three year old the world is a fascinating place to be. Kids enjoy life’s simple pleasures. Riding a bicycle is an adventure. Wood building blocks is a precious item because so many things can be made out of it – castles, spaceships, cars.

The other day I was reading a book in a park. Two kids, a six-year-old girl and a four-year-old boy, sat next to me eating an ice-cream. I overheard a boy asking his sister, ‘Why do flowers grow on the trees?’ His sister explained that it was the way God created trees. When they finished eating, they started rolling on the grass, facing the sun. A girl said, ‘Que divertido es el sol! Y el cesped es tan suave. Me encanta estar aquí.’ I couldn’t hold back my smile. I was astonished. There was so much joy in a simple act of sunbathing. I think this is a sort of mindfulness which we are talking about all the time. I wish I could slow down more often and notice small things that surround me.

 

 

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Lesson number three: IT’S OKAY TO BE VULNERABLE. Emotions are universal rather than culture-specific. We all have, at one point or another, experienced shame, anger, jealousy, and fear. It’s easy to recognize these emotions in children; they wear them over their face.

 

I have two younger sisters back home, five and thirteen years old. I remember them growing up. I remember them being very honest about their frustrations and moments of weakness. What’s particularly interesting to me is that I recognize the same behavior in children in kindergarten. 11 000 km apart, my sisters and Ecuadorian children reveal their true sentiments, appear vulnerable and ask for help. It seems to me that vulnerability is a universal language. It’s innocent. It’s sincere.

 

Unlike adults, children don’t have that great primary delusion that human beings are invulnerable. They know that vulnerability isn’t a weakness, and it’s not a choice. Vulnerability is ever-present in our lives and we should submit to it with a humbleness of a child.

 

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Lesson number four: IMAGINATION IS INNATE. Children are incredibly resourceful. They have hours of fun playing with a cardboard box. They have super powers to turn a living room into a pirate ship. When I was a child, I wholeheartedly believed in fairies. Although they never quite responded or showed up when I wanted them to, they would leave their traces everywhere. Fairies would bring me sweets, necklaces and toys. My parents and grandparents were nourishing my bliss-biased thinking at every opportunity, and I’m very grateful to them for that.

Once in kindergarten we found a dead beetle laying on a pavement. The beetle was about a size of a child’s fist. Children surrounded him from all sides. Ten pairs of curious eyes kept staring at him, mesmerized by his shimmering black wing cover. Two girls picked the beetle up from the ground and announced that they are going to arrange a funeral. They dug out a hole, put him inside and sang a song – it was a small lovely ceremony.

See, imagination is innate indeed. Children don’t need anybody to tell them they need to imagine in order to play, they know it since the moment they are born. When we say ‘I’m not a creative type’, or ‘I don’t have imagination’, this just means that we don’t have creative pursuits that would maintain our imagination with which we were born into this world in shape.

So the thought I would like to leave you with is What if we took care to re-learn from our younger selves? In this blog post I was constantly referring to other kids only to really provide examples for what we know already. We know how it feels to be a child. What if we recall who we were ten, fifteen years ago? I definitely feel like I was another person back then. I would like to meet my past-self – she had a certain kind of wisdom I don’t own anymore. What knowledge did we posses then that now became scarce? What if we let ourselves loose and played around more often? What if we found profound inspiration in something simple? What if we tried to act like children more often? I’m guilty of not practicing aforementioned things myself but I hope that we might at least keep this idea in perspective and come back to it over again.

Hanna Karnei