The Mindful Journey of Childhood
Oct 01, 2013 03:07AM
The bumper sticker, “Childhood is a Journey Not a Race,” seems like a simple and straightforward reminder to be mindful, but we often forget to think about how profound the statement truly is. In fact, the philosophy presents a challenge to parents and educators alike.
A race has a starting line and finish line and ranks participants by speed, in the order they finish. The race results possess the value. A journey has starting and end points, but the experience is what matters most. As parents, we vacillate between seeing our children’s development through the race lens and the journey lens. We want them to score well on tests, be good athletes and artists and ultimately get into the best schools to have a good career. This means we are often caught in constant motion, shuttling our children to one practice after another and helping them struggle through homework that, at times, seems mindless and leaves little time to relax together. We might even say, “You will see that all of this will be worthwhile down the road.” Through the race lens, obstacles can seem like nuisances we and our children need to brush aside as quickly as possible to keep moving. Schools are caught up in the same frenzy as they strive to be considered rigorous and difficult to get into, if they are private, or meet state and national standards if they are public. In the film Race To Nowhere (RaceToNoWhere.com), a student says, “I am not thinking about the meaning of any of what I am learning. I am just thinking about getting it done.”
As adults, we know intuitively life is not a straight line and receiving an “A” brings a different kind of reward than completing a good book. We know the hard work of striving toward a goal is fulfilling in itself, and joy comes from achieving a new level beyond our previous accomplishment, not from measuring against someone else. When we look through the journey lens, we pass these messages on to our children. What we also know deep inside is that, to help our children see the beauty and possibilities of their path, we ourselves have to engage regularly in activities that foster big-picture thinking and strike a balance between results and experience. Knowing our priorities helps us protect our children from being dragged along the push and pull within ourselves.
To help balance the tug-o-war between living life like a journey or a race, choose a regular “pause practice” to allow yourself to breathe mindfully, find your way to the present moment, listen to your inner voice and gain a deeper perspective. Discuss with your significant other how best to support your child—gaining clarity and cohesion about your family values is critical to achieving mindfulness. Reflect upon your child’s personality and learning style. Are they inherently results-driven, or do they enjoy the process? In keeping with Montessori philosophy, think about how you can build upon your child’s natural strengths, yet stretch them in ways that do not come as easily.
Maria Montessori says, "The education of a child, therefore, does not aim at preparing him for school, but for life. " With this as our ultimate goal, may we help them embrace life in all of its beautiful spontaneity, living in the present moment and appreciating our child’s journey. We can continue setting goals with our children, while remembering to cherish our experiences together.
Andrew Kutt is the founder and head of Oneness-Family School, an international, progressive Montessori school in Chevy Chase for children age 2 through eighth grade. For more information, visit OnenessFamily.org.