May 14, 2014 by Angel Pricer
“Why can’t I just be home during the summer like a ‘regular kid’?” Connor asks on the last day of his spring break, which coincided with his tenth birthday. We were discussing summer plans and the Extended School Year program at Hunter and that, at least right now, we just aren’t prepared to meet his needs over the summer.
WHY? In short, there are no local summer programs that would keep him engaged in activities that are meaningful to him; at least none we can afford. And risking a backslide after all the progress he’s made over the past six months is not an option.
Our discussion led me to consider his question for weeks. What *IS* a ‘regular kid’? I went on a writing rant about the kids who go to school for 180 days of the year, live at home with their family and have off for roughly three months of summer vacation. We’ve tried that routine and it doesn’t work.
Frankly, I’m glad he doesn’t fit into that particular mold. While it may be more challenging to be true to who you are and pave your own way in the world, at least we’re doing it together.
A true inquiry into what a ‘regular kid’ is requires a look at the ways we adults try to control children…WHY, and at WHAT COST.
Connor’s first preschool experience was at a small church. There were smiling faces, good times and a cheerful rendering of the Nativity Scene at Christmas. There was also an undercurrent of coercion and control that viewed the natural exploratory and limit-testing nature of a 4 year old as problems that needed to be ‘nipped in the bud.’ Unconsciously, I bought into a lot of that rhetoric; I also continue to become aware of and take responsibility for my part in this perversion of what it means to be a ‘regular kid’.
This first experience sowed the seeds for deep disdain of both religion and school, damaging the roots of his ‘regular kid’ development.
How do I know? He’s never let go of the experience. Just before his last visit home he was telling me that he could still smell the watery-looking macaroni and cheese coagulating between him and a classmate, who encouraged him to hurry up and eat it so he didn’t get into trouble. He talked about being made to take a nap on a cot, which caused him a great deal of distress. His four year old self had no way of communicating this affront except through his behavior.
His ten year old self doesn’t bring up these issues for pity or as an excuse, but out of a legitimate need to successfully complete a stunted phase of his development. And he needs the adults in his life to be present, aware and loving as he moves through it.
Can you think of similar situations in your own life? Some of us seem to have navigated these waters with fewer waves, at least on the surface, than others. Kids labeled with emotional disturbance and related disorders call our attention to the dysfunction we quietly accept as ‘normal’ in a way that cannot be ignored. Once in school, their behaviors become even more unmanageable as we continue to ‘shape and mold’ them into the people we think they are supposed to be.
But, is that really what education is all about?
“Education in its general sense is a form of learning in which the knowledge, skills, and habits of a group of people are transferred from one generation to the next…” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education
In most educational settings, the environment is such that a heavy measure of external control is necessary to maintain safety and order. This type of ‘top-down’ approach makes it almost impossible for experience-driven learners to develop self regulation, motivation and focus, as evidenced by the clinically significant lack of and medication treatment for these issues.
But what if they were in an environment more conducive to their learning style?
Would they still experience these traits in a negative way?
A heavy focus on academic achievement from a young age is NOT what most ‘regular kids’ are interested in. This focus comes from adults who fail to examine the undercurrents of their own lives, opting instead to repeat the learning, knowledge and habits of prior generations. Bad news for energetic, creative and inquisitive kids.
Are we willing to cultivate the strength of our own presence that allows children to be ‘regular kids’?
It takes a present, aware and loving individual to hold this kind of space. With practice, patience and a willingness to question there is so much to learn from and enjoy with ‘regular kids’. Absent that, disorder ensues.
I know this to be true not because it’s been written about by others (though it has) but from my own experience-driven life. And when my patience is waning I take responsibility for myself (which usually means a quick nap or at least taking space)! That’s healthy boundary development, another key that will be featured in a forthcoming post.
For now, practice being present, aware and loving with yourself and the ‘regular kids’ (and adults) in your life.