-little o photography
Kindness is a quality that was of the upmost importance in my home of origin. When you met my colorful father, you might not imagine that kindness was his primary guiding inspiration. Instead, you might imagine that it was fun, or invention or creativity! But my Father, Lou, was profoundly influenced by his best friend, Sam, a fellow teacher at Cole Junior High School in Denver, Colorado. And if you had met Sam, kindness WOULD be the image that would flow toward, and surround, you. Sam and his wife Lee, who had no children, spent Christmas Eves at our house with their best friends, Lou and Mary and their 12 children. Sam’s eyes sparkled as he told stories and taught us magic tricks that were mesmerizing. His essence was of complete kindness that impressed my Dad, and consequently his children, profoundly. My Father spoke of kindness on a daily basis.
When I was a kid, I remember my Father’s compassion being great. He supported a lot of causes and showed his support with money and his time. But when he told my brother’s friend, who had family problems, that he could live with us if times got any tougher, I thought, “What the……!” With 12 of us kids all packed into a 3-bedroom Hutchinson Home in Lakewood, I wondered where we would all sleep. One of my brothers already frequently chose the couch to sleep on as he was not fond of sharing a room with others. My Dad told me not to worry. “We will find a way to make it work,” he said. And I believed him.
Kindness lived firmly in my Mother’s heart as well. A little card on our refrigerator, that you could not miss, said, “Never judge another until you have walked a mile in their moccasins.” I remember the time, in about 5th grade, when my Mother overheard me and my friends talking about a child in our class, who had let his grooming fall by the wayside. My Mother’s strength of her convictions had a way of making you feel that you had been” hit upside the head” even though you hadn’t. (I am not recommending her style, only stating the way it was, although at times I found myself behaving in similar ways with my own children.) She let us know that since this boy’s father had died, he was consumed with grief, and didn’t care if his nails were clean, or if he was a little “stinky”, a term I think we had used to describe his t-shirt. She asked me to give this boy a little extra consideration (which meant that you had better do it, or else). This was easy because he was a nice kid and I liked him, so I made sure to talk to him each day. My birthday came around and I was so amazed that he gave me a necklace, a box of turtle candy and a dollar. My Mom said it was not appropriate for me to accept jewelry from a boy (early 60s), and now the painful part – the dollar! I enjoyed the candy, but boy I really wanted that dollar! Can you imagine! I think the most money I had ever had of my own was a quarter, and that was because my Dad ran out of the dimes he handed out on Sundays. My friend had a paper route and to me it seemed that he was loaded!
My point with this little story is to illuminate how nice it was for this lovely and lonely little boy to have a friend to look out for him, and how a grownup stepped up and supported this connection, since children don’t have this type of awareness. I actually knew that one should be “nice” to everyone, and I usually was, but didn’t understand what grief might look like in a child since that was not an experience I had yet to encounter. The situation supported a little boy and I learned so much from the experience myself. I couldn’t do anything about his grief, but I could be an attentive friend, and that, along with other efforts, and time, helped him find his balance. Parents can guide children to support others in ways that do not ask too much of the child. It is empowering to a child to find out that by “doing your part” you can contribute to the good of a situation.
I am privileged to be helping out in the 1st grade at a Waldorf School and I was curious how relationships would be handled in the grades. I taught in a Waldorf nursery and preschool/kindergarten where kindness was upheld with great importance. How would it be handled with older children, I wondered? I am supporting a young teacher who is filled with joy and enthusiasm, and comes in daily with a fresh outlook and new ideas to support the children. She has asked certain children to be the “knight” for others on the playground. She didn’t “spell it out” to the helping child. Children almost always feel noble to be asked to help another, and try very hard to do so. She never uses shame to teach the class, but usually shows them by good example. If someone can’t comply with something being done, say circle time, they will have to step back and watch. They will be invited to rejoin when they can. If a child speaks to her in an unkind tone, she might say, “I would like you to speak to me kindly, the way I speak to you.” It is lovely to watch. That doesn’t mean that you will never hear a strong tone with the grade children. Sometimes they need that. But the communication will be direct, without shame, for instance, “We don’t take our neighbors things!” In my opinion, consistent, joy-filled learning comes from a kind teacher. The teacher of this class, who is home with her new baby girl, a kind woman, has laid careful groundwork for her class, and now this lovely young woman, kind as well, has stepped in to hold the class seamlessly while their teacher is out. The children respect her because she respects them. Lucky kids!
One day I witnessed a remarkable few moments that I will try to relay to you. One little girl, we’ll call her Maggie, came to school with no energy. She flopped down on her desk with her head down and showed no sign of coming up. The teacher went about with her teaching, but when it was time for all to rise and greet the day, she asked the child, “Can you stand with your friends and greet the day?” No response. Moments ticked by…No movement….what to do…”Michael (not his real name), can you reach out a hand and help your friend?” she asked. I can tell you as a seasoned teacher, that when you ask these things, you do so with your utmost strength and will, but you DO wonder if it will work. (Knight) Michael reached down and took his friends hand. No movement….What to do…Will the child be angry…. He gently tugged and quietly said, “Cmon Maggie” and then Maggie slid herself up and out of her desk with the help of a true friend. She went on about her day. They both forgot about it. That is just what you do for your friend. We don’t know why Maggie had no energy that morning. We just knew that no matter what it was, with the help of your friends, sometimes you are able to let your troubles go. The teacher and I had to fight back a tear.
Our children often come home from school and tell us about the other “naughty” kids and they imagine that they themselves do little wrong. While it is important to listen and in some way let them know that you hear them, most of the time they just need to ventilate. If there is a more serious problem, of course it must be handled with the help of your child’s teacher. Most of the time, just by reinforcing the skills of living in a community, you can help your child get along with others well. There will be children that your children gravitate toward, ones they get along with, and sometimes one or two that they will have to stretch to meet. As a teacher I will tell you that no child “tries” to be difficult and not have too many friends. They may have a disability on the physical or social side that makes it hard. It is heart-breaking for these children’s parents. Being inclusive is very important to us at Waldorf Schools. We do our best, but occasionally difficult things still happen between children.
In the grades, my son had every boy in his class over to play (one at a time). Most of the time the two boys would run to the park to play ball or some active game, but another time a boy came over who had some physical limitations, was raised by his grandparents, and frankly didn’t know how to interact with my son and visa-versa. My son cut down two branches from a willow tree, handed his friend a pocket -knife, and told his friend they were making whips. At one point they looked at each other and both started laughing…and laughing! After carving, the boy said, “So what do I do with this whip now?” My son said, “What do you do with it! Look! And he proceeded to whip it through the air with glee. “Oh” the boy said. And they laughed some more. There was an understanding that this might not be a match made in heaven, but they both tried, and they bonded with this time spent together, laughing. Girls, on the other hand, are usually more complicated (after about 5th grade) and I recommend that, before this time, that class parents of the girls gather for a class meeting where the teacher and the parents can lay some groundwork for how classmates interact, and even about makeup, phones, Facebook, etc. in the older grades. The more you get on the same page and support each other, the better. And something I came to find out about myself and my friends – it can be hard for Mom’s, especially with their daughters, not to fuel the chlidren’s fires because some of the “mean girl stuff” still “stings” from our own childhoods. Interesting! Some very special “rights of passage” have been created in Waldorf schools in the 8th grade for both the boys and the girls as they become young men and women.
When I saw my young charges being particularly kind in my class in the preschool/kinder, I could imagine them imitating their parents. I had one boy who looked out for another less-socially gifted friend. I had a girl who made sure her neighbor’s cup was full of water because her friend’s eyesight was not good. Our classroom became one that was safe for all; a nice place to be. So ask yourself what significance kindness plays in your life. I ask, “Are we our brother’s keeper?” And of course I don’t mean doing things for “brother” that they should do themselves. Kindness is not weak. It does not spoil. It shows respect. To me, as I look at my friends and colleagues, the very developed ones reach back their hand to help another out of strength, just because that is the way that it’s done. Without these kind gestures, I would not be teaching. So thank you, you know who you are. But none of us are kind every time! None of us ARE kindness, but are inspired by kindness. If it is important to you, pass it on to your children. It makes the world a better place to live in. When you feel like it, try at least slipping on a moccasin, if not walking a mile in those of another. We all have such different perceptions, but I think we can all agree on being inspired by, and inspiring our children, with kindness.
Most of the fabulous pictures in my blog have been taken by Brianna Doby of little o photography, a former Waldorf parent and Mama to two beautiful children. You can see her picture here. Brianna is a professional photographer, but some of these photos were taken in my classroom. She just quietly slips in, making friends with the children, chatting with them, showing them her camera, waiting for “those” special moments, and the ultimate outcome is precious pictures of relaxed and happy children. Look at her website, little o photography for more information.