The effusive kiss. Misbehavior files. Case 2.

this picture belongs to our family album and is used only as an illustration.

This picture belongs to our family album and it is used as an illustration. It does not represent the real children mentioned in this research.

Warning: You are about to depart into an incredible flight. This is a longread post, much worth every word of it. Get yourself a coffee, turn off your phone and be ready to enjoy one of the most healing love stories ever. It is 100% real, I only changed the children’s names.

The effusive kiss. Alice, 2 years 9 months. Pete, 2 years 11 months.

Hypothesis: when a young child attending a play group is seen and accepted for what she is, and not for what she is missing, her self-confidence is meaningfully fostered and a proper field is opened in the group for shared love and compassion.

Alice has come to play for 8 months. She is a big sized girl, usually wearing colorful cloths. Her big black curls frame her enormous black eyes and her beautiful chubby cheeks face.
It took her around 5 months to be ready to stay within the play area and move around leaving her mother´s lap. Before that she only played here and then with the toys that were near her hand reach. At snack time she would gently move her mother´s hand as an extension of her arm to make her grab a cookie and feed her into the mouth. She would also use her mother´s arm as a tool to reach and interact with toys.
No eye contact, no words, no further interactions.
I thought socialization might be an intimidating challenge for Alice in a particularly active, talkative, enthusiastic two years old play group, whose leader is Pete. He is the little one the rest admires and fears at the same time but I will tell you more about him later. Back to Alice now.
I asked her mother whether at home she played in the same way as in the play group. Her answer made me a bit concerned:
– No, she enjoys here. At home she is even more still.

Then I talked to the mother.

She told me when Alice was 14 months she had asked the pediatrician whether her child had Autism. He said: “I don’t think so, give her time”. I felt relieved. Giving time is my favorite choice. It includes accepting the child as she is, sending an acknowledgement message to her which I firmly believe will nurture her best potential.
But what if that time was over and she really needed some early diagnose now? I made a few suggestions as to “stop doing for her” the things she can do for herself (mainly feeding and playing) and fostering a new vision of her child: as a capable, trustworthy little human unfolding her own self at her own time.
Simultaneously a professional started diagnosing Alice, saw her for about two months once a week and then offered parents some guidelines that really helped.
In the meanwhile I tended to approach her differently than how I did with the rest of the children (regarding free play, autonomy and social interactions). I felt tempted to “help her out” a little, little bit (that is what I said trying to convince myself).  She has the sweetest way of getting you to do what she wants but I knew this was not the best for her. So I had a big challenge to face.

One day she wanted to grab a toy beyond her reach. So she pulled her mother´s arm wanting her to grab it for her.
I said:
“No, mom is not grabbing that for you. If you want it, you can grab it yourself”.

She got distressed. She went to the ground but not in the normal tantrum way (facing earth with body and face). She did it as a little baby would do when placed down by a parent, on her back. She started mourning. It was a deep and at the same time suffocated mourning.

Heartbreaking. My mouth and lips got dry. Other parents got restless; the mother was clearly trusting me but suffering within.

I approached Alice and broadcasted her situation with a blind confidence in what I have learnt. I wanted to console her, to soothe her, to do for her, to solve her struggle with all my heart. But this time I just described what was going on: “you want mommy to grab a toy for you, I said she wouldn´t, you did not like that, you are laying down mourning, I can understand you, I am here for you to cry all you need to”.
The mother looked puzzled and sad. We all were. Time run out and they left leaving a bitter taste in the air.
That week I would think very often of what happened and I convinced myself I did the right thing repeating a mantra within: trust her… trust her… trust her.

Thereafter Alice started getting into the play field with autonomy and she demonstrated that even when not talking nor looking into the eyes of her playmates, she was 100% into the group interactions.
Week 1:
Someone asking for a drum stick? She would pick it up and approach it to the requesting child. (Mom still inside the play area).

Week 2:
Someone running about with a just grabbed toy looking back and searching for a follower? She would get into the running circle and run, run, run. (Mom sitting with other parents and only exceptionally needed back from then onwards).

Week 3:
Someone playing with a different set of socket toy? She would slide her toy next to a boy´s hand and grab his puzzle to give a try to new combinations of sizes and shapes. She clearly enjoys sitting and indirectly exchanging with this particular child: Pete. He is the most talkative, risk-taking, active, expressive and puzzle solver genius in the group.

Then two weeks ago Alice´s father came along (mother too). He had the day free. Alice looked particularly happy about this.

After the “running circle marathon game” this group had created and enjoyed for many weeks, Pete approached Alice form one side and grabbed her firmly from the neck. His mother stood up and called out his name loudly wanting to stop him. It was not the first time that Pete expressed his inner impulses in a strong physical contact with a playmate and his mother worries about that.

I stopped her as fast and best as I could. Alice was not afraid. Pete was not in a rage. Something different was going on. This interaction was gold for me.

Pete was still holding Alice from the neck with his left hand. Now he embraced her with his right arm and pulling her face towards his mouth he sink his lips into her chubby left cheek and KISSED her. Just like that, a capital kiss.

Everyone got still.

Alice remained processing the experience for a few seconds. Still facing front (without turning face to face towards him), she bend her chest and lowered her left shoulder towards his face, reaching his lips with her cheek. And he kissed her, kissed her and kissed her one more time.

Grownups breathed relieved, the other children resumed their play, Alice mother´s was holding a giant smile in her face and her father was experiencing in an early stage what most fathers have to wait until their kids are 15… Another boy loved his girl as much as he did.

What a debut to enter socialization! This was the first time (in her life?) Alice offered her own body to get in touch with another child in a direct way, having a clear intention and expecting an interaction. No intermediary. No third-party adult to do for her.

From then on, she has a first sketch to construct her own path into life.

How is Alice doing?

Are there words? Only murmurings… for now.

Is there eye contact? Very little, very short… for now.
But I don’t worry a bit about that. I have other intrigues.

My main question is: what made Alice available to dare entering into socialization?

There is not a single answer for that, for sure.

I know. Anyhow, which where the main influencing factors?

Was it time and trust?
Was it parents asking for professional help?
Was it Alice meeting frustration in a respectful and caring environment, that day that I remained really firm for the (probably) first time?
Was it Pete?
And what, what, what made Pete do what he did?

Was it love?

Everything infants and toddlers do meets a developmental need. That is why we set a safe environment for free movement and play, we do not over-stimulate nor interrupt free play and we do our best to acknowledge feelings and struggles with respect.
If everything a little child does is a reflection, reaction and resound of his inner map towards unfolding humanness, then what if being humane, compassionate and loving IS a human developmental need?

What if in a free educational environment not only physical, emotional and mental unfolding is manifested? Could we infer that a spiritual unfolding need pushed Pete to interact with Alice as he did?
If Pete´s mothers would have succeeded in stopping him grabbing Alice from the neck we would have probably not known. And the mother would have admonished him for “misbehaving”, Pete´s natural spiritual impulse would have probably been interrupted.

But this is not what happened. He was given time and chance to manifest his inner urge.
So for now my answer is YES. Spirituality is a human developmental need.
And I only can prove that by empirical observation and experience.
What would happen if we realize spirituality is the missing key to revolutionize education?

More of that in a future post.

One diamond, a thousand facets . Reaction, reflection and resound of develomental patterns at the edge of a new humanity.

diamondEvery child is born as a raw diamond. This is an invaluable jewel. An enormous potential.

And every child has within an irrepressible urge. The renewed emergence of a single destiny: to manifest who he is, who she is.

Being a person even within the womb, it will take a whole life to complete the manifold manifestations of his innate humanness.

From the cradle to the grave the enrichment of experiences react, resound and reflect into a self-eductional process destined to know the single jewel of the self beyond the thousands of facets of appearance. A diamond, a diamond is.

In spite of culture, in spite of formal education, in spite of society, the self-education process goes on and on. The search cannot be stopped.

What new-born babies have in common is the diamond has not been repeatedly shaped by the reflection, reaction and resound of experiences. It is a raw diamond.

Every child holds some unique characteristics conditioned by genes such as persistence level and the capacity to take risks (MD. Rutter, M.) but how these uniqueness will manifest depends entirely on environment and experience.

What if this environment offers the right conditions for infants to self-educate themselves from the very beginning? I am talking about an environment as assertive and responsive of children’s developmental needs as we can dream of. Hundreds of alternative educational projects are preparing the ground to sow such an experience in children’s lives all over the globe.

My hint is that we might be at the edge of a new humanity.

A humanity that values and includes the spiritual aspect of human beings to be freely manifested in the educational field.

At last.

Misbehavior files. In the search for the ultimate good.

Imagen 291

Have you ever seen a toddler misbehave? I thought I had. A thousand times.

And I have a clear idea of why this has happened: I was blind.

Blind to really see beyond my own projection, perception and understanding.

Early childhood “misbehavior” is an adult conception, a rational explanation of those poorly rated attitudes, responses and experiments babies and infants conduct.

Generally and repeatedly considered by adults as inadequate, improper, bad or mean, infants meet their needs many times under stress (and shame).

Being the cost so high, why do they insist in doing so?

My hypothesis is: because they have an inner urge to fulfill.

It is generally easy to approve, respect and encourage babies endaveours  when they meet  adult standards and expectations: a 2 months old baby smiling to human faces, a 7 months old baby sitting straight on his own, a 12 months baby starting to walk by himself, an 18 months old baby saying her first words, a 24 months old toddler that is willing to be potty trained or a 30 months old toddler that smoothly exchanges his toys and biscuits with a play friend and kisses granny goodby with a big “thank you for the visit” hug…

Anyhow, what happens when a baby does not smile but cries, does not sit, walk, talk or get potty trained when adults expect them to do so? And what about a toddler that refuses to indulge adults requests (or threats) for social correctness?

Is he biting? Is she throwing tantrums? Are they not listening, not paying heed and (in general) not behaving as adults expect? Instead of seeing this as a challenging behavior we can drive our understanding towards a much better question: are they meeting a developmental need by doing what they do? Which one?

This question opens a wide range of responses that will completely modify the actions we adults take when facing such challenges…

Is a 30 months old girl pouring water all over? She may be needing to transfer liquids to understand fluids inter exchange in her own body, preparing herself for potty training. What about offering her enough play time in the bath tub (if weather is cold) or in the play ground?

Is a 24 months old boy saying “no” to every request his mother states? He may be needing to consolidate his “I” image as a separate individual by getting oppositional to every parental request. What about offering him a firm, calm limit (“you have to put your shoes on now”) AND an option so he can feel he is the one who is choosing (which color of shoes he is going to wear)?

Is an 18 months old baby repeatedly climbing the dinner table despite being said not to do so? She may be needing to reinforce the neurological wiring illumined when practising climbing coordination skills. What about taking her long enough to a playground where climbing games are available or setting a safe climbing game in her play area?

Children generally “misbehave” when they don´t find the opportunity to meet their needs in a safe, respectful, free play environment. They do it anyway, anywhere, with what they find at hand. And what do we adults say about that? “Uhm… here is the little naughty one”.

But what would happen if we shift the perspective and question ourselves: “Uhm… am I offering this child an adequate environment to meet his needs?”

Thinking this way, responsibility transfers from kid to adult. We are made responsible, which is good news, because it means we can find effective and intentional ways to offer children (and ourselves) a more fulfilling and harmonious experience.

After years of observation I have come to know everything a baby and toddler does is intended towards one direction, aiming at one very same goal. And this is so because there is only one ultimate good guiding every child behaviour as a compass: fulfilling the innate urge to unfold their humanness.

And I have good reasons to think that this is not only a cultural but also a biological impulse.

There are innumerable examples in my daily work that support this approach. I have picked some of these observations as study cases and compiled them under the “Misbehavior Files Series” in my best aim to narrate a Sherlock Holmes kind of detective educational adventure.

Would you join in solving the childhood discipline mystery puzzle?

Then know this post is just an introduction. Stay tuned, the good stuff is yet to come.

There’s Kids Art for Dinner. A sucessful nutrition service-learning project.

When you caress your baby you are giving him love. You are teaching him to love and in this way you are also nourishing him.

When you caress your baby you are giving him love. You are teaching him to love and in this way you are also nourishing him.

Today I read this post about Food Fights at Not Just Cute.

Then I remembered a project I wanted to share here and this might be the right time for it:

When our older child was in Grade 2 they did a nutrition project at school.

Teachers invited nutrition professionals for an interview, children cooked, they analysed industrial food ingredients and advertisements, they watched videos and played games.

Not only regarding taste, but also the other senses that can be nourished: sight, smell, touch, ear…

Kids did all this with a tremendous interest because it was a service learning project and they were really involved.
The final goal was to create banners for CONIN, an Argentinean NGO working against malnutrition in community canteens where food was served for free to children of their same age.

They thought of a slogan synthesising their nutritional recommendations, they compiled all what they had learned and created two different banners to decorate the community canteens:

  • abstract compositions using kitchen tools,
  • a painted white plate using the yin-yang symbol as background.

Each child painted one plate and in pairs they did the abstract composition.

One of the slogans they came up with was: “let’s become artists, let’s serve at least three colors in our plates”.

Now our child is almost 12 years old, so 5 years have passed by. Still today, when we are serving dinner, he (or his brothers who learned this from him) says: let´s count how many colors do we have here.

This is a very simple way to include a well-balanced meal with protein (dark brown, dark red, white, yellow), vegetables (orange, pink, red, green) and cereals in a same food (soft brown and white)!

Here are some of the art works and slogans children age 7 came up with. I particularly like the last one where the lady is breast-feeding her baby. Which one do you like most?

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With my hand on my heart: where are you taking me, dear Education?

julia margaret cameron niñaI visited my friend and colleague Alejandra last Thursday morning.

Sane people would have taken around 5 hours to process the enormous amount of information we exchanged. But we both work in education, so we pushed contents forward and fit the whole thing into intense 90 minutes, before the bell rang.

Time and again I directed the conversation towards free education. I can´t help it. Since I have memory I feel an urge for change. For transformation. I can almost visualize the image of a renewed humanity born from the re-education of adults learning to allow the self-education of infants. As if a revolutionary spirit would revolve within my self, frustrated and satisfied concurrently… Much has been seen and said, but I sense much more has to be done yet!

It would be easier not to feel like this, but I do.

Then I came back home to pick up my husband and our youngest child. We needed to drive him to a health center. He got bitten by a cat, which is stuff for another post to warn you why you should not allow your child to caress stranger cats. But that would drive me off the story and since our boy is ok there´s nothing to really worry about.

So, now we are in the car and Ricardo asks me how did the visit to my friend go.

– You can´t imagine!… She has been working in public infant education for 25 years. She tells me… the little ones, from 1 and 2 years old are asked to sit at the table with their hands held in their backs, while teachers place the materials to “work” with in front of them – I can almost see the image I am describing; innocent children handcuffed in the back in some kind of concentration camp camouflaged by good intentions. The one who moves hands, is the bad guy, the one that misbehaves. They are so automated that by K5 they do it by themselves, she says…  no one has to tell them.

I sense within an emerging indignation that ignites while I speak… Is perchance a sin to move little hands around? This is so far from what I dream infant education to be… I am outraged and my disapproval is evidently expressed in the pitch of every word I say. 

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Unexpectedly, from the rear of the car reaches us the soft voice of our 5 years old boy:

– Yeah mom, but it is not as bad, you know?

– Do YOU have to put your hands in the back when you sit at the table at school???

– Yes, but I don’t mind, he wisely answers. It is just like keeping them still on your lap.

Our little boy is far from being automated, flattened by education, destroyed in his uniqueness… He is far, far from that. He is one of the most self-determined people I know, if not the most one. But he knows how to lay his hands on his back without further psychic damage.

Then I ask myself. I ask my self. I ask myself.

Am I exaggerating?

I would like to end this post with this question. Right here.

But I can´t.

I am not pretending you to give me an answer…  if I do exaggerate, if I don´t… I am not expecting anything from you (even though I would definitely appreciate your comments).

I want to throw this question within, let it resound and observe wherefrom its echoes resurge.

Am I exaggerating with my vision of actual education? I ask my self and wait…

julia-margaret-cameron2

I am what I am, I am not going to tell little children to lay their hands on their backs. But I believe I can give me the chance to lower my hypersensitivity and look at formal education with better eyes.

The Education… I imagine her as a distinguished lady, standing in front of me, no age or time yet as old as humanity itself. I look at her in the eyes and new words surge from my lips…

– Education, until today I was bound to you by my anger, my desire for you to be different. Now I see you and accept you as you are…   I take what you have for me and that is enough… I wasn´t able to acknowledge you before. I apologize for that… And I thank you.

She is standing there, calmly looking at me. She smiles, in glowing eyes.

I feel the desire to go closer. We hug.

Me from underneath her arms, she embraces me over my shoulders: I feel her generous hands surrounding my back.

I feel sheltered, I am a little one.

I am free.

Thereby, fueled by a new inner force I turn and look into the future, towards my own destiny.

If there is to be the revolution, so be it.

After the Manner of Perugino_Cameron

Photos by Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879).