Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Contributions of Children: finding life beyond the mess

By Angel Jackson

A week ago we attended a going away party for two friends moving to another city. There were a few kids at the party including our three and a bunch of adults. It was a rather nice outdoor party on a Friday evening in the city. Within 60 seconds of arriving at the party our older son managed to find the food table, attempt to serve himself some fruit, and tip 1/2 the contents of the fruit salad onto the ground--welcome to the party Jackson Family!

This is were we usually stop with the contributions of children, they make a mess at otherwise nice affairs. They are loud, they run in spaces much too small to be ran in, they yell, scream and cry much more than is socially acceptable and did I say they MAKE A MESS!

They do make a mess and much of my life is spent cleaning up this mess but luckily on that night we were able to get past that moment of fruit salad on the ground at this party and be present to some really neat contributions.

The party took place on the front lawn of our friend's condo building. Along the stone front steps up to the building were two stone slopes, one on each side of the front steps, maybe you can see them in the low-quality picture below.

These slopes were immediately interesting to all the children. First they were walking up them, lying on them and sliding down them. My friend came over and said "I love having kids here, no one has ever done this before." Now of course walking up some stone slopes is no ingenious move, but it does show how kids really do see things differently than adults. To me they were just stone slopes that held railings to go up the steps, I didn't think twice about them. To the kids they were much more.

After they had explored the steps with their own bodies they started building vehicles to race down the steps. Our friends had set up a "free stuff" table with things they did not want to move with, the kids saw these things as materials for building. Various stuffed animals raced down these slopes with drink stirrers as skis, cardboard boxes as sleds and even a perfume bottle as a "motor". No one told the kids to make up things to do with the free stuff, no one told them to race things down the slopes, in fact if we adults had been paying a little more attention we probably would have put a stop to it and said something like, that is not what the free table stuff is for, or don't play on those slopes you'll get hurt. Lucky for the kids the adults were engaged in conversation and just glad the kids were no longer knocking over the fruit salad and only paying occasional attention to what they were doing.

As a parent things like this happen all the time my kids find creative ways to play with things or do things but I am sad to say I so often shut them down as many of these ideas lead to that "M" word MESS. I so often try to stop the mess that I wonder if I miss the ingenuity and the contribution they can make to my life.

I wonder how this plays into a family learning adventure? How do we make space for mess so we can see the new ideas, so everyone can learn and everyone can contribute and everyone can play.

I wonder what would happen if we let kids play in research labs. Well... part of it I don't wonder, I know for sure... there would be a lot of broken test tubes, Bunsen burners ablaze and chemicals on the floor and probably in their eyes, hair and up their nose. I wonder, though, if Children are really allowed to contribute, if they could help lead us to answers we can't seem to solve. They have ways of looking at things we would just walk by, not notice and discount. They have ways of seeing things we don't even think are there and they ask questions we would never consider. It's messy and complicated but I wonder if we make more space for the contributions of children will that lead us on a family learning adventure.

  • What does life look like if we hang in there beyond the mess?
  • Have you ever hung in there beyond the mess and seen something cool with your children? Tell us your story.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Breaking My Own Rules... and Discovering Mulberries!

By Angel Jackson

This week when we were walking to our weekly language club the boys and I spotted this on the sidewalk:

I've seen it many times: the dark purple berries that look like blackberries staining the sidewalk and getting all over our shoes. My oldest said "hey, they look like blackberries." This sent me into my normal rant about berries that I don't know what they are, it goes something like this: "yes, they look like blackberries, but I know they're not because blackberries grow on canes not on trees - these are something else and they are probably poisonous; we can't eat them."

This is my go-to speech for any berry that I don't know what it is. This means anything other than wild blueberries and raspberries - I know what those are. I adopted the speech about 7 years ago when my oldest was a toddler and I wanted to make it clear what we could, and could not, eat so I classified everything I did not know what it was as "bird berries"- safe for birds but will make us sick. It was a decent rule at the time and kept things out of my toddlers' mouths.

We kept walking and went to our language club meeting. When the weather is nice, we make a real day of walking to language club, then playing at the park across the street for hours, then walking across the park to the other side to Whole Foods where we get a treat and do some shopping. Then we hike home the "long way" which means over the hill that crosses the tracks, down a street and across another park where, if we have the energy, we play again. This Tuesday was no exception. After our class we went over to the park to play with friends. While the kids were playing I got the sense that there might be more to the blackberry look-a-likes on the street and maybe my mom friends knew something about this I did not.

"What are those berries all over the street there that look like blackberries?" I asked.
"Mulberries," they both replied.
"Are they edible?" I asked.
"Yes, they are amazing, so sweet and so soft they never make it to market before spoiling so the only way to get them is to pick them from the tree".

All of a sudden my world started to open up. I started to think about all the different places in the neighborhood I had seen the purple stained sidewalks. My mom friends were both much more adept at urban foraging and knowledge of wild edibles than I. As we talked one told a story of picking mulberries and another of sour cherries they just discovered and had picked the day before and were making into a pie that day. I also remembered stories of juneberries and crab apples another friend had told me earlier. I had also witnessed 2 different people eating something from trees over the past month. I guess these earlier experiences had primed me to be ready to ask for more information in this case. To be willing to press past my protection rule to peek and see if there might be something more.

Although my "rule" may have served a purpose of keeping my toddler boys from eating things that might make them sick, it also kept us from discovering some really sweet treats just hanging in our neighborhood. Once we got over to Whole Foods and were enjoying our store bought treats I told the boys that I had learned that those berries are mulberries and we can eat them. The boys were of course excited about this. We left it there and continued our "long walk day".

After we crossed the bridge and were walking toward our second park of the day we saw it, right there on a street we'd walked down so many times, the purple stained sidewalk and a mulberry tree. It took less than 60 seconds for my oldest to climb the tree while I washed out a cup to use as a collection vessel.

My younger son cheered us on from the stroller and sampled the first of the harvest while big brother reached out on limbs and I pulled some down to reach any ripe mulberry we could find.

My favorite moment was when a woman walked by. For a moment I thought she would tell us off for picking from that tree but instead she reached up plucked off nice ripe mulberry and in broken English asked if it was good to eat. I smiled and said, "yes - very good." She popped it in her mouth, gave a big grin and walked on.

A rule broken, new learnings, a hidden treasure discovered, a meal shared with a stranger and smiles all around.

The boys insisted we save some for Daddy when he got home so we could all share in the new sweet treat. A Family Learning Adventure!

  • Have you ever found yourself breaking one of your own rules?
  • Have you ever discovered a new thing on a path you have walked many times?
  • How did it go?

We'd love to hear your stories!