You know what I have always found extremely interesting? As parents, we have some say in what kind of kids we raise. It is the ultimate social science experiment! Of course it doesn’t always work out that way. i.e. A professional athlete can drag their kid around to as many practices, sporting events, and triathlons as they want but their kid might still inherently be a bookworm who wants to do nothing but hide in a cocoon.
BUT, we can certainly encourage certain character traits, can’t we? I imagine that much this is done by modelling the kind of behavior we want to see in our children.
If we want our kids to eat healthy, eat healthy.
If we want our kids to be active, be active.
If we want our kids to be charitable, be charitable.
If we want our kids to be creative, be creative.
We’ve been given a blank slate. The question is, what are we going to write upon it?
A long time ago a friend told me about a neat idea she had about “staging” various toys and books around the house for her daughter to discover. I asked her about it in an email (turns out I had slightly misremembered the point of this exercise) but this is what she wrote:
“I came across the idea in some other mommy blog about three and a half years ago. Someone had posted a picture of a kid asleep on a picture book, and made a joke about how a book trap became a nap trap. The idea was to leave a picture book on the floor, and the kid would come across it, become absorbed, and fall asleep, or at least have some quiet time. I tried Googling it, but couldn’t find it. So I did that for my daughter, but she didn’t fall asleep, ever. But sometimes she’d stop and look and I’d be thrilled.
“So, the idea was, to leave a book OPEN around the house, in a quiet place where she might come across it and be absorbed and continue with it.
“I kind of do this lately with pens and paper, since that’s the thing these days -- art enablers -- we have a few places on all floors of the house where she can go to just grab what she needs to sketch out an idea without help getting things or having a big production to put away. If homes and rooms are too tidy, and things have to be completely put away all the time, it becomes too much work for her to act on an impulse. She’s not always going to go to her table or one place to act on an idea. So, she has a stack of paper and pens in Steve’s office, and a stack in the kitchen always out, and in the basement on his workbench.
“Conversely, if things are too messy, she naturally follows along with my theory of “The longer it sits there, the more it looks like furniture.” So, for example, with her chalkboard on the wall of the living room (the nicely framed one) -- I don’t fear erasing her artwork, to show her that she can always re-create, sometimes with better results. If I leave a picture for too long, it starts to look permanent. If I leave it blank, she can ignore it all too easily too. But, if I start a drawing on the chalkboard, she often continues it. Or, if I write a word or message that she can read, she’ll often illustrate it. If her art supplies are always spread out on her play table, she has no room to do other things, and it just becomes a messy heap to work around. So, keeping a balance of tidy and messy works for us.”
I like this idea, don't you? It comes down to making things accessible so kids can take the lead on their own, whether it’s keeping books on a low bookshelf, a bunch of costumes in a tickle trunk, a stack of records near a kiddy-sized record player, or a cup of crayons and a sheaf of blank paper within easy reach. We’ve been doing these things for years, but after reading my friend's email I decided to introduce STEALTH POETRY.
Both my daughters have developed an ear for words. I think it comes from all the reading we do, and our walks to and from school/the post office/the park when we often find ourselves making up silly songs and rhymes to pass the time. Sarah, my youngest, has written some interesting stuff (here's a Halloween poem she wrote), and a couple of times I’ve seen our older daughter's nose buried in a couple of different poetry books.
But like all of our books, they get put away and even forgotten. And we aren’t always in the mood to sing a silly song. I wondered how could we make poetry “top of mind” without it turning it into a boring school lesson.
So I found a poem online, copied it into Word and made the font really big. And then I stuck it to the back of our front door (it’s metal). And then I waited.
Sure enough, when the girls are getting dressed to go outside they stop and read it. Sarah likes to read out loud. I often ask her to slow down and picture herself in the poem while she reads it. Every once in awhile I switch the poem for a new one.
I’m not interested in filling up every single one of their peaceful moments with mental stimulation (because it’s just as important to have down time). We aren’t the kind of parents who paint a giant periodic table in the upstairs bathroom or make placemats out of laminated multiplication tables (although on second thought that sounds like a good idea), but I like to think that leaving poetry around the house -- open and accessible -- does something more than just make ‘em learn something.
Maybe pretty words affect our personalities in ways that cannot be calculated?
Here is the poem we started with. Read it out loud to yourself, it’s lovely.
Up into the cherry tree
Who should climb but little me?
I held the trunk with both my hands
And looked abroad in foreign lands.
I saw the next door garden lie,
Adorned with flowers, before my eye,
And many pleasant places more
That I had never seen before.
I saw the dimpling river pass
And be the sky’s blue looking-glass;
The dusty roads go up and down
With people tramping in to town.
If I could find a higher tree
Farther and farther I should see,
To where the grown-up river slips
Into the sea among the ships,
To where the road on either hand
Lead onward into fairy land,
Where all the children dine at five,
And all the playthings come alive.
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