Living and Learning in the Pacific Northwest
I see the need for a natural approach in the way we educate and enrich our children. I found these posts by my friend Silvia thought provoking. One about Deschooling Society and another with quotes that are essentially about engineering vs. nature. She and I are in crazy tune with each other. We post and then discover how similar our recent thoughts are and I promise we are not consulting each other first. Her last post inspired me to post more from my reading of “Simplicity Parenting.”
Simply put, it is a good idea to slow down and think about childhood in natural terms instead of activities and efforts that will produce faster and better results. Here is what Payne says about it:
“It was in the early 1950’s, with the advent of chemical fertilizers, that farmers were able to bring greater control and productivity to their fields. They could enrich their fields, freed from the slow natural cycle of fertility. Fertilizer –fertility in bags — made it possible to dispense with livestock and manure, and with varied crops. Farmers were able to specialize, to plant acres and acres of densely packed monocultures. Miles of corn as far as the eye can see. Enriched soils mean greater outputs in shorter amounts of time.
This analogy has it’s limits, I agree. For example: Do three soccer practices in one week equal one bag of fertilizer? But it provides some insights, and it can be a good guide to increasing balance in your children’s schedules. What about motivation? Well, the farmer’s motivation–to increase yield– is understandable, especially given the larger context. After all, the farmer is being pressured, too: How will his crops compare to those of the neighboring farms? In a fast-paced, competitive world, doesn’t it make sense to seek an advantage? To try to exert some control?
Unfortunately, there are costs to applying industrial principles to nature. The price of over-fertilizing is exhausted, depleted soil. Land stewardship involves time: it requires more trust than control. Sustainable farming involves rotating crops, balancing crop fields, with fields that are completely fallow, and those with a legume cover crop. The same can be said about kids; there are costs to controlling their schedules, to “getting more out” of their childhood years. They are leading super-phosphated lives, busy with activities from morning to night. Excess “enrichment” is not soaking in; it’s running off, polluting their well-being. Activity without downtime is ultimately–like a plant without roots–unsustainable.
How does crop rotation apply to a “sustainable” childhood? Let’s dig a little further into it, as a new way of looking at our kids’ schedules so we can simplify them. Crop rotation is a model of balance and of interdependencies. The bounty of the crop depends on soil that has rested and soil that has been aerated and replenished by the nitrogen of long-rooted cover crops, or legumes. Rest nurtures creativity, which nurtures activity. Activity nurtures rest, which sustains creativity. Each draws from and contributes to the other.
In terms of our kids, the “fallow field” is leisure and rest. It is much-lauded “downtime,” kicking-around time, hanging out, mucking about. It is time for contemplations, for staring off, for trying to whistle a recognizable tune when you can only whistle blowing in, not out. It is time that exists beyond the school bell, beyond the long arm of homework. It may seem like parallel universe time, beyond piano practice, dance classes, and even washing up for dinner.
I think of legume, or cover crop field, as deep play, losing one-self in the flow of something deeply engrossing. It is the type of involvement–whether with an art or construction project, or reading–when time stands still. Self-consciousness and frustration fall away; your child is focused and in control. They are connected with what they are doing, but also connecting with who they are. This is the deep-rooted quality of creativity.
One more small point about this deep play, or legume crop. As a parent I try to be mindful of when my children are fully involved in their play. It is something you can make space for and honor, but you can’t “control” it. Trust trumps control. As Dr. Spock said, “Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.” It doesn’t do to “instigate” deep play. You can’t direct it; you can only leave time for it and trust that leisure and activity will nurture your child’s creativity. It doesn’t work to schedule scores of art classes for your child, to “boost” and “enrich” their creative output. Your vision of creativity may not be theirs. Their creativity, as with their identity, is evolving. But you can recognize and honor this crucial middle ground between “full on” and “full stop.”
Activity–school, classes, sports, chores, socializing–is represented in the planted, or “crop field.” This involves normal “daily life” busyness: activity and interaction. It also includes the “good stress,” or slightly euphoric, elevated busyness of class play, a sports competition or game, a musical performance, parties, even exams. A full and rich afternoon, or a day. On the go, and in-the-mix time.
Activity and interaction are crucial, in balance. Just as rest nourishes action, vigorous activity feeds sleep; it also feeds the imagination. But the schedule that is 90 percent activities is out of balance. As parents there is no need to get out the stopwatch, portioning your child’s time into even thirds. But as we’ve seen in the past couple of decades, as a society we’ve “enriched” our kids’ schedules, ironically, to the point of overuse and depletion. The overscheduled child is like soil that has been constantly and exclusively cropped. Without rest and replenishment, without the deep roots of legumes to aerate and pull nutrients down into the soil, it become compacted, a dust bowl.
So how do we step off the “overscheduled” merry-go-round? How do we “oxygenate” our kid’s schedules and simplify their daily lives? … Awareness is the first big step… When we see a free afternoon as a glorious opportunity– the neighboring kids are out, Jed’s frog eggs are turning into tadpoles, Mary’s found an open spot behind the lilac bush where she can squeeze in and not be seen at all–the unexpected has a place. Pleasant surprises can take root. After all, it’s not just what you make of your time, it’s whether you have the time to make it your own. I hope to increase your awareness of balanced time in this chapter and suggest ways to make your children’s schedules more sustainable, so there is time for them to build inner resources–energy, preferences, interests, resiliency–as well as expend them.”
We all have our affinities and priorities that are equally important. But I do think we have strayed too far from our connection to nature. The further we get from nature, the more consumerism creeps in our lives. And consumerism reminds me of the corporate aristocracy. Consider for a moment the huge popularity of the Twilight Series. In this article, they make a compelling argument by illustrating how vampires parallel corporate aristocracy. Vampire stories have been popular for centuries but the recent mega-popularity is telling, I think. The only reason this matters to me, in regards to education, is the archetypes that are found in these vampire stories. Other archetypes are replaced by the vampire archetype in our current culture. Consider this point from the article:
“Welcome to the fourth turning. The youth want the power, speed, mystery and freedom of being entrepreneurs and part of the upper class. They also want to help the world, to increase freedom, peace and prosperity. Those in the Y Generation (born between 1984 and 2007) don’t want to be Company Men. They want to be “The Man,” but a nice version of him. To them John Wayne is too selfish and mean, Luke Skywalker is too independent and insecure, and the CSI cops are too poor, bureaucratic and lonely. That leaves two choices: Be a good vampire, or be the true friend of one. Consult the overwhelming bestseller Twilight and other popular vampire plotlines and characters to find out how to be good at these two roles. “
Um, no thanks. I hope my children live authentic, faithful lives. I want them to be men who care for their families (emotionally and financially) and pursue their passions. My idea of success is not measured in dollars or power or test scores. Truth be told, at this time we are probably under-scheduled and could use some more stimulating activities. But not too many. I’m convinced that free time is important and will protect this time.
I’m not sure how I got from traditional, organic crop rotation to blood-thirsty vampires, but I did. Now I must sleep.