On Friday I spent some time walking downtown with my girl and spent some time at the library. There I observed some interesting interactions between parents, kids and authority.
Baby was playing on the big pillows in the kids’ area with another, bigger boy. After his mother reminded him to be careful as he played, he jumped onto her pillow and shoved her off. She fell over and landed on her head. And started to cry. Not nice, but they’re kids – it happens. The mom reprimanded her son, was quite critical of him and told him to apologize. She didn’t focus on his attention on the impact of his actions on the baby – she focused on having him conform to a socially appropriate response.
I then happened into a preschool storytime (I thought it was the toddler age group). Again, fascinating. First off, it was loud. The librarian/story reader used a big, loud voice. The music was loud. I can see how loud seems right when working with kids – they’re loud, it gets their attention. At the same time, their ears are more sensitive than adults. If anything, they are fine with LESS volume. I know it was too much for me. I should add that I’m particularly sensitive to noise, and have been since I was a baby.
The children were expected to take a seat on the carpet and stay there, aside from the songs, when they were asked to move around in prescribed ways (dance in a circle, jiggle your hands, etc.). Both the parents and the librarian made repeated attempts to get non-conformers to sit in the “right” place and “right” way throughout the half-hour. One father whose daughter didn’t want to get on the carpet continued to encourage her to go there. He also, pleasantly, didn’t insist and remained there for her to return to and sit on when she needed.
The librarian brought out different stuffed toys to introduce the various stories. They then went onto the table beside her and, as she told the kids whenever one tried to go up and touch them, they could play with them once storytime was over. But not during. Parents called kids back who dared to go forward and touch. One girl in particular seemed to start it off, then others took courage or inspiration from her and followed. But no: the animals were for looking, not touching.
Overall: I don’t get it. There were maybe 12 – 15 kids, with an almost equal number of parents (plus an assortment of younger siblings). It wasn’t an out of control mob. They were kids! At a FUN storytime! Why was sitting in a certain place and manner required? Why should fun and sensory interaction be saved until the end of the event? How does restricting initiative and curiosity advance children’s development? And why is there such pressure on parents to have their children behave in socially acceptable ways?
I left the event somewhat sad to observe the omnipresence of the demands for what was, to me, mindless social conformity. It leaves me somewhat relieved that I haven’t done too many group activities with baby, as I can see how that pressure could have influenced my interactions with her over time to demand greater conformity rather than letting her be herself. I would love to see children given the space to BE, explore, learn, interact, and be guided rather than pushed into shape. From a more open environment I can imagine children growing up more true to themselves and better engaged with others and the world.
And of course, you are welcome to completely disagree with my analysis.