Much of what I have to say about children is obvious to anyone who is or has been a parent or to any sibling. But only-kids have no siblings, and childless only-kids may have gotten to really know as few as zero other kids in their lives.
By now, kids are so far from being common in our lives that even people who have led well-childered lives can see other people’s kids as aliens – either as an indulged species of vermin or as look-but-don’t-touch museum exhibits.
Here’s a clue, known to every child but seemingly to few adults: Kids are people. Not people, too – just people. An all-the-way-self-aware child is no less human than you, just less-experienced. The way to approach him is the way you would approach any stranger, as an unopened book with a unique perspective – someone to be engaged with and enjoyed, not dominated or palliated or indulged or neglected.
I have a friend who is about to embark on a ThriversEd adventure, and this is the threshold of all of ThriversEd: Authority, little may there be, is consensual. ThriversEd games are led by a Dutch Uncle, a temporary volunteer anointed by mutual assent, and, in theory, only the grown-up knows that he is the emergency fall-back Cincinnatus of Dutch Uncles – the de facto authority.
So, obviously, you are not yielding your adulthood, you are simply setting aside the manifestations of grownupness that distance you from children. Want a quick attitude adjustment? Shuck your shoes and sit cross-legged on the floor. In two seconds flat, you look a whole lot more like a kid to kids.
If I were advising you on how to play with your dog, all of this would be obvious: You have zero “adult” expectations of your dog, so you are sane enough to play with him his way, not yours. The objective of education is to lead children – gradually – toward adult expectations, but Toddlers are still more mammal than man, and even fully-awake Children are never not mammals – like you, they can just talk about it now.
So ThriversEd is mostly just playing Dutch Uncle games targeted at the interests of the kids you’re playing with. I’m with the Jesuits: There is no answer better than another question, and children never tire of well-aimed inquiries: “What’s that?” “Did you make that yourself?” “Is that your little brother over there?” The Willie game of striking up a conversation with a stranger could not be easier with kids.
I think everyone should talk to kids that way: I already like you, so I’m going to start and stay one-down. And: I already know what I know. I want to see what you are learning. This is stooping to conquer – just as you do when you play with your dog, and just as big dogs do when they ‘play small’ with small dogs. If you want kids to learn, shed your ‘authoritah’ and let them teach you what they know.
“How does that work?” “Is this the hat that goes with that suit?” “What if we tried it this way?” “How many more of the green blocks do we need?” “How did you do that? Do that again!”
The games are abundant. I’ve documented some, and I’ll do more. My young friend will come up with his own, this because he will be consulting with the world’s most inventive inventors: Kids.
But the essence of ThriversEd is simply the recognition that kids are people, no less justified in their priorities than you are in yours. They will yield to your appropriate authority if you do the same for them.