One of the many concepts we find it hard to get parents to grasp is that the adult in the child’s life is to do nothing but wait. I totally understand this challenge, because I used to be one of them! When I visited my first Sudbury school, I kept asking questions about how and why and what and when, etc. My guide kept answering with the same response. Nothing. They are just free to do as they wish and you do nothing. Even though I’d never experienced this type of education before or heard anything about it, I’d read about the history of Sudbury schools before visiting, and my logic told me that if this philosophy had been in existence for this long and folks were growing up and being successful after graduating, then it must work.
When families come to visit the school one way I try to describe our school is that it’s like a waiting room. We are not coercing them to be something or do something. We are not suggesting anything. We are not manipulating anything to lure them into activities we think they may enjoy. We are simply waiting. The human mind is an amazing thing. It is an active and living being that is in a perpetual state of thinking and pondering the world around them. Thinking to a human is as flying is to a bird. It is an extinct. We simply think. With children, they are always thinking! It starts from birth! I can remember with my own children, as soon as they came out, even though they couldn’t quite yet see, when they emerged from my womb they were looking around trying to see what was going on around them! My youngest son as about a day old. We were still in the hospital. OMG! He was the cutest little chocolate kiss I’d ever seen with this big bright eyes and long eye lashes. We’d paid a photographer to come into my hospital room to take pictures of him. She stood up in a chair to get a picture of him as he was lying on the bed and for some reason, this little chocolate drop turned his head and looked right at the photographer. She was floored! “Oh my goodness! I’ve never had a newborn do that before!” My son is not special, however. He is simply human, curious and perpetually in a state of wondering. It is what humans do. When my oldest son was born he looked around and for some reason at just a few seconds old found where to get his milk from and went to town drinking his little heart away. We all laughed in the delivery room at how this little being could figure that out without my helping or even guiding him!
When that same little boy greedy for breast milk (folks this child would not be weaned until he was over 1 years old!) started to walk and run at just 1 and 2 years old, he would run laps round our kitchen. Round and round and round for at least 30 minutes without stopping. Now at almost 9 he is totally obsessed with running track. I did not tell him he should run track. I did not put him in track to see if he would like it. I did nothing, but wait. Until one day he saw the Olympics and Usain Bolt and the rest is history. He spends most of his school days racing students and even asking other students to time him.
This same little boy at just a few months old sat with me in a tub and I (who used to sing jazz professionally before marriage, motherhood and education captured me) was singing in the tub as I bathed him. I sang a song and hit this really high note and this precious child looked up at me and mimicked the note I hit perfectly. I froze, shocked that a baby not even a year old was interested in singing and even conscious enough to know how to hit the notes I was hitting. I could not believe it so I hit another note and he looked at me and hit the same note. That same one has joined the school choir and LOVES to sing. He sings all day!
I share these examples with you so you understand how humans are from the time they enter the world until forever. They are conscious of the world around them, ever learning, and trying to sort through their place in it. We don’t have to tell them to be in the world. They are instinctively in it and a part of it and working always to figure out their space in it. No child is born, grows up and says, “You know I just want to be a lazy bum in this life.” Why do children in preschool go from wanting to be a policeman, fireman, ballerina, doctor, etc. when they grow up? Or like my son has said since he could talk, “I am going to be an animal scientist when I grow up.” And since he has never changed that tune and will spend literally hours watching adult documentaries on animals, I tend to believe that is what he will become. I don’t know. I’m just waiting around to see.
As I reflected on these above thoughts tonight as I was doing a load of laundry from my 3 kids’ hamper that was about the height of Mt. Everest, this thought came to me and it sort of stopped me in my tracks: “Childhood is the waiting room of your child’s destiny.” I have taken the stance to just wait. Patiently, attentively, but not “interferingly” (if that is a word?). Thinking on this, I am reminded of the verse in Jeremiah 1:5 that says, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you…” This verse really solidifies my belief in the Sudbury model. So, I am holding to the commitment that I simply must wait as my children play, run, skip, jump, fall in ponds, tear up cardboard boxes, color, cry, play video games, eat, talk, sleep, sing, dance, wrestle, watch TV and whatever else their free little minds choose to do, until that little seed of destiny that was in their hearts from birth (and as a Christian I wonder if God placed it there at conception?) takes root and blossoms into who they were always meant to be.