The hundred is there.
The child is made of one hundred.
The child has a hundred languages
a hundred hands
a hundred thoughts
a hundred ways of thinking
Loris Malaguzzi (translated by Lella Gandini)
Recently I stumbled upon Ria, a sixyear- old, playing with sticks and stones outside the class by the trees. She said how she would come to school every day, even on weekends if only she was allowed to just climb trees, play and run around in the outdoors. She may not have been very articulate with words to describe her feelings, but her face was expressive. She was obviously overjoyed to be outdoors—a sight I can never forget. This made me think—what is it about nature and the outdoors that make children so happy? We do not have to sweet-talk, compel, prompt, nudge or do any of those things to make a child relate to nature for they seem to do it naturally. While each child’s way of relating to nature might be different, one cannot deny that there is something intuitively present there for children. This becomes more and more obvious once we start observing it.
First brush with bereavement
Janani, a six-year-old from my class, came to me the other day carefully holding a folded leaf in her hand. She described how she had found a mosquito lying on the ground which needed a safe shelter. She had picked it up using the leaf. For Janani, the need to rescue the mosquito seemed to have been felt spontaneously. How did she think of doing this? Where did she learn to show this kind of sensitivity towards an insect? A few children gathered around it as Janani found a place for it and comments were passed on the mosquito being motionless. To this, one child responded quirkily, “It is not moving because the mosquito is pregnant, da!” Yet another spellbinding moment for me where I couldn’t help but marvel at their ability to feel so tenderly towards a tiny insect which we adults detest! It was heartwarming to listen to their theories. A few days went by after which Janani and her friend picked up the same mosquito which they had placed carefully in one corner under a tree (yes, it was still there!) and said, “Akka, the mosquito is not able to give birth!” For them, the mosquito had not flown off and was in the same place because it was pregnant and in pain. There was no doubting that. I asked them what was the solution now? They talked with each other for a few minutes after which they exclaimed, and I quote them here, “We need to create a puddle so she can give birth in water!” They walked off busily. I did not have the heart to tell them that the mosquito was dead all this time and left it for them to figure out. Eventually, that’s exactly what happened. They came back and said, “The mosquito is dead, Akka.” “The head and body came apart. It’s dead, Akka.” While they were expressing this, a furrow formed in their brows, eyes downcast and their lips curled. They looked sad. Then, they quietly walked away feeling heavy at the loss of the mosquito that they had so dearly cared for.
One would usually look at such an episode jokingly and laugh at the ludicrousness of it by remarking how cute or funny children are. But I would like to emphasize the profoundness of what had transpired. An incident as uncomplicated as this had me introspecting on whether we, as adults, are actually looking and thinking more carefully about the meaning of what children do? Witnessing this whole episode, it was certain that there was a whole lot of heart in there, something deep had been unearthed. On one level, children can be rough while playing, throwing things, pushing, taunting each other and all of that which easily gets noticed, but the moment they see someone in real pain, someone hurt, be it an adult or their friend or in this case, a mosquito, they are tremendously sensitive, empathetic and have such a great extent of compassion. Sadly, this compassion becomes much harder to sustain in adulthood.
Evidence of how creatively children respond to the world around them comes out when they set out to build insect homes. In this act, one cannot overlook the skills involved. All the skills that I am about to describe are self-learned; there is nothing directed or initiated by any adult.
Children use all kinds of materials to construct these homes. They find use for rocks, stones, coconut shells, threads, leaves, twigs, sticks the list goes on. Materials, which as adults, we would easily discard without a second thought. There is no ownership of these homes. They jump with joy when an ant crosses through the homes they have designed and built. Just like the bees and wasps, children are born architects! Whether it is with Lego blocks, Jenga blocks, sticks and stones, they are constructors at heart. Styles of architecture are never the same, two insect homes do not look the same. Each group does it differently. One of the ant homes has several elements in it— a bedroom, a resort space which is made using a coconut and a stick drilled into it to make it look like an umbrella; a waste water system amongst others. The ideas keep evolving as new additions get made to it, like that of a boat using dried up leaves for ants to go sailing! A piece of orange was discovered and placed in the ant house as feed. Chalk pieces of different colours were powdered and placed on one side to, “make it beautiful”, as one child said. One cannot fathom the degree of care they take while building these homes. It is really wondrous to think— how do such little children know that all these materials can be used for building an insect home! Where does an idea like building a home for an insect come from? How are so many children attracted by this idea? It appears that their minds have subconsciously assimilated information through observation gathered from various places which they then contextualize and make it work for them whenever needed.
Something interesting happened a few days later. Small trees were being planted on campus and the ant house which the children had built had to go. Feeling sorry for them as they had spent time and energy building it, I asked Kartik, a six-year-old from my class how he was feeling about it. He did not seem fazed by it at all. On the contrary, he was quite casual about it and said that there were still some rocks left and that they would build a new ant house in a different spot, further away from the tree. And so they did! The highlight was that despite the deep involvement and attention to detail they had shown, when it had to be destroyed, they did not exhibit any signs of overt attachment, handling it with ease, almost with an ‘it’s all part of life’ attitude.
Looking at child art
During most art and clay classes for sixyear- olds, they like to be left to their own devices without adult intervention. With crayons, pencils, clay, paints, etc., in hand they remain lost in their own little worlds. A remarkable thing to note here is the way art aids children to connect with their inner selves. Once we get past the initial pandemonium, one cannot help but admire the pensive mood that they slip into, bringing their innermost thoughts to the foreground in their artwork.
When a child creates art, there are many elements in it that would easily escape the adult eye. Many a time, contortion of lines in a child’s drawing would have precise meanings known only to them, as they like to depict their work with a great sense of detail. If we miss it, we have missed out on the deeper significance hidden inside the art. But if we are careful enough to notice and ask them for explanations, we would get to hear some incredible narratives. I had the good fortune to listen to one such, recently.
During an art session held recently, the children were asked to draw on the theme ‘Our new school campus’. Archit chose to draw the junior school building, the assembly hall and the path leading up to the dining hall. He drew his lines with gay abandon, used bold colours and made a composition that expressed exactly what he wanted to say. I asked him to explain the many dotted lines, the wavy portions, the patches of colour, and the crayon smudges, which I could not comprehend. To my surprise, he was able to convincingly give proper explanations in minute detail. The crayon smudges represented the ground, the irregular dotted lines were the pathways, and the wavy portion was the curved wall near the art room. Proportion-wise, he drew the junior school building much taller than the rest of the school. This was perhaps an insight into how he perceived the overall space—the junior school building was more significant for him than the rest of the school and hence, the biggest. Understanding how Archit’s creative mind worked was a miraculous moment for me.
As Picasso rightly said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” Art does come naturally to a child. It is intuitively present in them.
Justice in the eyes of children
Kavin, an eight-year-old boy was in a serious mood when he told me, “In the olden days, they used to say bad words like dumbo, fool, etc., to children.” As I probed, I gathered that his grandfather told him how this was common in the previous generations. He continued, “Nowadays we don’t talk to children like that; we sit down and advise them.” He further added, that the reason elders these days do not use bad words to children was because they would get caught by the police. “The police would fine them.” My interest and curiosity were piqued and I asked him how he thought the police would come to know about it. He replied, “The children would tell it to their parents and they would come to know and the police will catch them and fine them.” I asked him, “What about the kids who don’t tell their parents?” He then said, “That would be very bad. They should tell because the grown-up should get punished for what he has done.”
Kavin’s strong feelings about this matter took me by genuine surprise. It left me pondering over the emotional range of children and how often we underestimate them.
Looking at children and making these observations, was beyond doubt, one of the most self-renewing experiences for me. I came to discover the several possibilities that are there and areas for further exploration when we, as adults, start to see the world the way children do. Amidst all the questions and learning I carry with me, one simple yet critical learning was that listening respectfully to what children have to say is of immense significance and it is the first step forward in understanding them better. That said, for children to sustain their sense of wonderment and spirit of learning and questioning, it becomes imperative that we truly acknowledge the host of extraordinary things that they do as real moments of learning.