Friday, November 07, 2014

The child's need for complexity.

My mum gave my 4-year-old nephew a stuffed toy snake—cute for his baby sister but certainly not for a sophisticated “builder” like he considers himself to be. Without a backward glance, he tossed it over his shoulder and asked me, “Where is that other snake? The one with moving parts?”

Complexity. Something with a bit of a challenge; something that will stretch the mind, get you into the zone, require a change in perspective even.

I recall when my teens were little. With the oldest, I was reading the Lord of the Rings when she was..7. And she loved it. It became the defining book of her life for years. She memorized entire passages out of that book!
Gosh, even before that, she was 6 and her sisters 3 and 4 and they were all reciting from a beautiful children's Shakespeare film series, Macbeth (“Is this a dagger which I see before me?.....I have thee not...Or art thou but a dagger of the mind, a false creation!” I recall my then 3 year old lisping away).

It was fun and exciting for them, and I am pretty sure they understood very little of it. But they felt the grandeur, the rhythm, the depth therein, and this was enough; this was what they needed to suck on and grow a little more.

Literature was never basic. Winnie the Pooh was the original material, with all the nuances, reflections, humour and unadulterated language intact. Nothing predictable and trite--material we parents could enjoy as well.
This is what they could grasp--that there was something bigger than they, something to aspire to, some knowledge that they would get to by and by, and eventually understand.

The world was delivered to them in its entirety; there were no bit-sized pieces offered up. They bit of what they could chew—how ever they could manage it, no pressure, just their own personal interest and curiosity. They could ruminate over what they took in, they could find meaning and apply it within the context of their lives.

To my delight, I read in the Telegraph about research conducted by the University of Liverpool (Centre for Research into Reading, Information and Linguistic Systems) that shows how brain activity is increased by exposure to poetry or language such as Shakespeare’s.
For example volunteers read a line from King Lear: “A father and a gracious aged man: him have you madded”. They then read a simpler version: “A father and a gracious aged man: him you have enraged.”
The researchers report that Shakespeare’s use of the adjective “mad” as a verb sparked a higher level of brain activity than the straightforward prose. The study tested how long the effect lasted. It found that the “peak” triggered by the unfamiliar word was sustained onto the following phrases, suggesting the striking word had hooked the reader, with their mind “primed for more attention.”
Philip Davis, an English professor and research on the study explains, "The research shows the power of literature to shift mental pathways, to create new thoughts, shapes and connections in the young and the staid alike.”
The study also mentions that self-reflection is enhanced  and what is education without self-knowledge?
And now when I hear about parents fretting that their 4 year old doesn’t know her letters, I cringe!
“She doesn’t know the basics!” the parent wails. “Everyone else her age does! She will be left behind,” wahhhh!
There is a reason why the basics are called basic—because they are just that. They are quickly learnable.
I try to reassure parents with young children that they are exactly where they should be--playing, being read to, been taken out into nature to observe first hand the complexity of their natural world, every leaf, every rock, every cloud, a miracle unto itself.

Challenge children with ideas to mull over; have discussions with them.  Many well known people have been raised this way; young Leonardo da Vinci hung out with his uncle, who spent hours with him, examining nature and discussing their findings.  Louisa Alcott's childhood home life was filled with evenings of Concord's most stimulating minds, and walks and talks with Henry David Thoreau.  Einstein's parents encouraged his questions (once he finally decided to start talking).

Seeking out and embracing complexity with children can be a powerful experience for the both of you.


Dual Learning Home Educator said...

Lucinda, after seeing your post on my blog I became curious to know about you. (I have no idea who reads my blog). I am so very glad I look into yours! I love this particular post.
I am guilty of putting "difficult" materials in front of my kids. But it is like you said. They need "Complexity. Something with a bit of a challenge; something that will stretch the mind, get you into the zone, require a change in perspective even" Since we are going to Mexico in two months why not learn about the Mayans? Who says a 5 and a 3.5 year old can´t listen to the Popol Vuh and learn from the experience?
We read Winnie the Pooh when they were even smaller. My father in law gave it to us. Our book was printed on September 1961!
Now I need to stock up on Shakespeare. It is never too early! Thanks for the inspiration.

Anonymous said...

What a great idea for the birthday cake! My 10 year old would love a Minecraft cake. :)

Pool Party in Gurgaon said...

I don’t know how should I give you thanks! I am totally stunned by your article. You saved my time. Thanks a million for sharing this article.

Moritz said...

I totally agree! Most learning happens when you are nearly overwhelmed by complexity and need to quickly make sense of something. Absolutely essential is some kind of motivation for you to actually get in there and learn, and the best kind of motivation is intrinsic. Usually you get the best results when the child is working on something that will make them happy or get them something in the real world that they want - like setting up a lemonade stand to earn a little money for candy, a new toy, or a roller coaster ride with mummy and daddy.

What I personally found to be incredibly helpful to keep me motivated when times are bad and celebrate when I achieve something, is a community of like minded individuals all on a similar quest to grow, learn, inspire, and maybe even make a little money to get their children the best education possible (and I'm not talking about private schools). I found this at Exosphere, which is this little community fostering its members learning - all ages, different backgrounds, and various creeds.

This is their site:

May we learn ever more and grow not just physically but also mentally and spiritually!

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