Have you taken a moment to observe children under the age of five recently? What do you notice? I had the privilege of meeting with a family via Zoom last week. They were showing me their chickens and newly built chicken coops. I observed their 4-year-old inside one of the coops with his baby chicks. His attention was focused, and he readily invited me into his learning experience of feeding the chicks. I noticed he was curious, filled with wonder and delight as he petted, hand-fed them, and held them up to show me the different foods he was feeding them.
I’ve had the privilege of knowing this little guy since he was a baby. He loves to learn. His parents accept that big feelings are part of the developmental path and co-regulate with him. I’ve watched how intense emotions come quickly and are released. Then he is back to his joyful explorations. His eyes shine bright and twinkle as he laughs, plays and learns about the world and his place in it.
For young children, we fully expect that they need to move their bodies, wander from one thing to the next, and get messy. Expectations shift, however, around the age of five. There is an assumption that children need to sit still and focus their attention outside themselves to learn. Passive, compliant behavior is encouraged and rewarded; learning and play are now separate activities.
Then look at children around the age of eight in many conventional schools. Often, children are in what I call the “3rd-grade daze.” The light in many children’s eyes is beginning to diminish. So much of their learning has been decontextualized, disembodied, and scheduled to fit the needs of adults.
I wonder what could be possible if we released expectations of children to become mini-adults? What if they could blossom naturally as the unique young beings that they are? I’d love to hear how you keep the light shining in your child’s eyes?