Sunday, July 24, 2011

I am large. I contain multitudes. Children already know this.

The world is vast. It is large.Out there, eternity surrounds us.
These were my thoughts as I gazed into the waters of Lake Simcoe a few weeks ago. In the early morning, the lake was so still I could see fish coming out to feast on the insects that had landed in large numbers over the water.
The fish moved in and out of the weeds and into the sand hollows, disappearing, reappearing, darting here and there.

We called the little children over to see. They gazed intently, whispering with intense voices, marveling at their discoveries, trying to identify what they were witnessing.
My thoughts turned to the aquarium the four year old has back at home with its sole occupant, blue fighter fish, Starbright. The tiny aquarium has nothing organic in it (fish excluded) and only a pink plastic castle and plastic weeds to embellish it.How unnatural!

Aside from the sadness that poor fish must feel, I think of the experience of viewing such a solitary fish in an artificial environment. What does that sort of setup have to do with how fish behave;-what a fish is? How can the paucity of  both this aquarium and of the experience of viewing  serve learning or understanding of what a fish is? Can a fish, without it's natural habitat be a fish? Doesn't it need the habitat to be a fish?

Even when the aquarium is bigger as it is at the public library where children and their parents can see bright coloured tropical fish-again these fish are exhibiting only a fragment of their 'fishness' because they are not interacting with what should be their habitat.

We can argue that the aquarium is better than nothing. But there is  a great deal that is wrong with putting creatures into drastically transformed environments and spaces that they do not belong in and then congratulating ourselves on giving kids a glimpse of  'nature.'

Instead of showing the child the vastness of things, the complexity of interconnectivity that their minds thrive on, we pretend that we know the answers and that the limits are fixed. When of course they are not.

Kids already know this. Instinctively, they seek bigger, wider, taller. (Could this be why so many young children have an attraction to dinosaurs?). 

They seek out the externalization of what they already know about themselves: "I am large. I contain multitudes." (Walt Whitman).

 We give children a sand box to play in when what they should have is the experience of the entire far as the eye can see. What should be there are the clouds shifting shapes in the great sky overhead; the beginning of rain; the shrieking of  sea gulls; the wind on arms as you dig deeply into the yielding sand newly dampened by the timeless ebb and flow of waves.

 We put children in 'places of learning' when we should be letting them experience the whole spectrum (not only the parts that we carve out for them); when they should be experiencing their world.

You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are millions
of suns left,)
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through
the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.
Walt Whitman
Song of Myself


Anonymous said...

What about families that can't afford to take their kids to the beach? What do they do?

laura grace weldon said...

So true and so beautifully written. For too long, what adults have considered "educational" has been a fraction of real experiences. Those experiences can take place anywhere. Nature isn't somewhere else, it's everywhere around us providing an essential element of happiness, what's been called "biophilia." Children know this in their bodies if not their minds. Here's a piece of staying in touch with that awareness:

rfs said...

@Anon-there are beaches, natural landscapes,woods etc that are free or very affordable to the general public. Be creative.

rfs said...

@Laura grace weldon-thanks Laura. I would say nature IS us. WE are nature. I will be sure to read your article.

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