“When I got home from school, I would run with my dog spot to the pond past the pine trees. That was a long way back, probably a quarter mile. Then we would run back to the road. We would run back and forth until I had to go in for dinner.”
My dad doesn’t talk much about his childhood. I didn’t even know he had a dog, but I could tell he was picturing the scene in his head as he told me about the freedom he felt as a child as he ran endlessly. It’s harder for him to get around now. His legs don’t always take him where he wants to go. But he still has his memories. He can smell the pines. He can feel the breeze. He is no longer on the other end of the line as I talk to him on the phone. He is back at his childhood home, and I picture it as if it were a vague memory of my own.
This made me think about some of my assumptions as a preschool teacher. In early childhood education, we often think of children in terms of “development.” Child development can be important, but we must remember it is one lens to look at children. When we look at children in this way, we are always looking at where the child will go next. Emily Plank, author of discovering the Culture of Childhood, told me that we think of children as Human Becomings rather than Human Beings (although I think she was quoting someone else).
Talking to my father, I see it is just as important to look at childhood from the other side, to look back and see what we have been. That boy running with his dog is still a part of who my dad, but it is not something he could do now. That boy running was also once an infant taking his first steps. The developmental view is no more important than the reflective view. I could talk about how that child running is not just developing his muscles, but releasing BDNF to spur neuron growth, while also regulating his attention so that he could focus on academic skills. But that is really beside the point. It seems to me that where we might be next in our development is comparatively unimportant.
How we feel at any given moment is what we carry with us.
I am currently working on a book called Teaching with the Body In Mind. It is a book aimed at teachers and caregivers of young children. The book addresses the need for more rough-and-tumble play and Big Body Play for young children. My blog will be focusing on some of the same topic for the next few months.
I want to start with a story from early in my teaching career (about 23 years ago). It’s about a man named Duke. I haven’t thought about Duke in a while, but I was speaking at the MN Fatherhood and Family Services Summit and the story came to me.
Duke was one of the Dad’s at the childcare center I worked at in the early 90s. Duke was unemployed at the time when our cook left. Our director offered him the job. Duke gladly accepted and we were soon enjoying the lunches he cooked as well as his visits to the classrooms. The kids loved having him visit, and Duke clearly loved being there.
After a few weeks, the director asked if he wanted to substitute for one of the aides in the afternoon. Soon he was subbing a few times a week in one of the classrooms. Our classrooms were fairly typical of the time. There was a block area with plenty of blocks, a dress up area with lots of costumes, several choices of toys and lots of art supplies. But when Duke was in the classroom, most kids forgot about all our precious materials. They wanted to play with Duke.
Duke offered the children something me and the other teachers did not. Duke loved to roughhouse. If he was in the room, he usually had one kid in his arms (often upside down) with two or three kids grabbing his legs, everyone shrieking in delight.
I hate to admit it, but we other teachers often asked Duke to tone it down. At best we tolerated Duke’s roughhousing, but we certainly didn’t try to emulate or even learn from him. Looking back, I can see that Duke was giving children something they desperately need.
Research now shows what Duke instinctively knew. Rough-and-tumble play is good for children and it is a great way for an adult to connect with children. It only took me 20 years to catch up with Duke.