If parenting were to come with a users manual, Chip Wood’s Yardsticks would be tops on my list. Many of us seek support, advice, reassurance, humor, and sanity in the myriad of parenting and child development books on the market. Each offers it’s own perspective and we take from them whatever nuggets suit our needs at the time, but Chip’s work seems to be the reality check I need when I am questioning behaviors or my own approach.
Recently, Chip has been posting on “Positive Attributes” on developmental ages in his blog, www.yardsticks4-14.com. His recent post on “Sensational Sixes” made me laugh with his spot-on assessments of sixes, and many of the reasons I so enjoy teaching first grade – like sixes loving surprises, jokes, silly songs and guessing games. Their minds are like sponges soaking up new facts and ideas and “conversation cannot be contained “right up to bed time.”
Throughout the years, Yardsticks has been the go-to book I’ve used as a parent and a teacher and each time I re-read a section, I think “what too me so long?!” Gesell looked at child development in terms of phases, which come with periods of equilibrium (generally smooth sailing at ages 2, 5, and 10 years) and disequilibrium (the emotional instability at ages 2 ½, 5 /15-6 and 11). More often than not, I return to Yardsticks or the books based on Gesell’s work during those phases of disequilibrium – you know, that “my kid is driving me nuts/I’m driving myself nuts/when will this end phase” when one or both of you are at your wits’ end. My 11 year old is currently and affectionately called “M of A” because at age 11, he does know more than the rest of us about nearly everything. (a-hem!) Debate arises for the sheer pleasure of taking an opposing view, most often with yours truly. Publicly, he is witty, clever, smart, and almost always polite. He chides my reading and writing on child development and most vehemently anything regarding boys, while insisting that “grown ups think they know what kids think but they are sooooo wrong.” So I offered to have him be a guest blogger and write something along the lines of “the real story of life as an eleven year old.” His response was to set up his own blog with a multitude of entries written in lieu of Legos, tv, video games or skate boarding. I should have known he’d outsmart me, right? This from a kid who has at times struggled with writing and reading in school while having so many deep thoughts on a range of topics. His writing is heart-felt, honest, and gives a clear picture into his rapidly developing 11 year old mind – “I want people who write about kids to know they know nada….if you think about it, it’s better for kids to write about kids…” Original entries are in need of an editor, but the process suited his purpose (to voice his opinion) in a safe and appropriate forum, which he enhanced his credibility by posting “on-line.”
As he was blogging away, I dug out Yardsticks. Here are just a few words Chip uses which fit our situation to a T: constant motion, mood, sensitive, oppositional, rude, unaware, debater, appreciates humor, loves to argue, challenged by hard work, saving face is important. Ah-ha! It’s not me and it’s not him. It’s disequilibrium and it will smooth out in the foreseeable future. Better yet, it reminded me to choose my battles and give him room to stretch his wings to feel more grown up, but also to not let him take himself too seriously.
As I prepare for a conference this week at the Gurian Institute on gender, brain development and learning (topics of great debate in my house over the past several weeks), I’ve been re-reading several of Michael Gurian’s books. Many of these would be on my list of users guides for raising children, but one in particular has really captured my heart again. The Soul of a Child (now published as The Wonder of Children – and no relation to this blog other than I am a huge fan of the author). Gurian scientifically, theoretically, and passionately outlines the reasons why we cannot simply look at our children as “economic interns” and bodies to be cared for. They are already enlightened souls who require attachment, engagement, and thoughtful nurturing by parents and caregivers so that they are able to know their own and the world’s divinity. Gurian succinctly traces history and all major religions to compare their views on children and weaves a common thread of the light and joy inherent in children and cultivated by capable and caring adults. He challenges us to know children’s brains, bodies, and spirits far better than we currently do. It’s a heavy load to bear, but as the Buddhist say, “you are already enlightened. Your job is just to realize it.”
And that is our job – to make the our own lives and the lives of our children richer and more possible. If you’re looking for guidance in doing that, listen carefully and authentically to your child and hen consider Yardsticks or any of the Gurian resources listed below.
Deak, JoAnn, Ph.D. (2002) girls will be girls
Gurian, Michael. (2001) Boys and Girls Learn Differently!
Gurian, M. (1997) The Wonder of Boys
Gurian, M. (2002) The Wonder of Children
Gurian, M. (2002) The Wonder of Girls
Gurian, Michael. Nurture The Nature
Gurian, M. (2009) The Purpose of Boys
Healy, Jane M. (1998) Failure To Connect.
Levine, Mel. (2002) A Mind At A Time
Wood, C. (1994, rev. 2007) Yardsticks: Children in the Classroom Ages 4-14.