a quote to ponder

I found this line while re-reading Calkins’ classic The Art of Teaching Writing. Calkins uses it as a lead-in to the story of a kindergartener whose teacher worried over how he seemed to draw the same thing, day after day.

“When I looked at the child’s most recent book, I found that the teacher was right. On each page, the boy had drawn a little square person standing in midair–and that was all. Only the final page was different. On it there was a funny looking shape that could have been a flower. Because I wondered about the drawing (and because I had no encouraging words to say to the teacher,) I asked the boy to tell me about the book, and to my astonishment, he responded by opening to page one and then reading the entire book to me, turning the pages as he went along.

‘Once upon a time Mr. Toastman wanted to make a flower,’ he said, ‘so he got a seed.’ The boy showed me page one, with Mr. Toastman and the seed. ‘You can’t see the seed,’ he explained. Then, on page two, Mr. Toastman got some dirt (and sure enough, there was a smudge on his hand,) and on page three he got some more dirt (a bigger smudge). The book ends with the seed growing into a flower.”

Calkins’ story is almost as lovely as the boy’s. But I think the quote can apply to more than writing. Looking back on my last post, on Mr. T and his timeline of his “own world,” I see that my initial disappointment was tied to my expectations– that T would work on a timeline based on actual history. Only when I let go of my own notions and watched what he was actually doing did I see the richness in the act.

It’s really all about stepping outside ourselves and watching what’s already unfolding.

It is, however, very helpful if we can focus on what children are doing rather than on what we wish they would do.

Come to think of it, this bit of wisdom can apply to more than writing, to more than learning, even. It might, if you think about it, be right up there with the best parenting advice ever.

10 comments… add one
  • Melissa Crowe Oct 20, 2010 @ 17:59

    Oh, so good, so helpful to be reminded of this. Thank you!

    • patricia Oct 20, 2010 @ 20:15

      It is good, isn’t it? Infinitely applicable.

  • Just Peaches Oct 21, 2010 @ 6:16

    Excellent advice. I’m posting it on my inspiration board. And, your right, it is wisdom that applies to more than writing.
    That quote reminds me that sometimes our kids’ behaviour is telling us something that they might even be able to articulate. I find this is especially true when I find myself in a recurring struggle. For example, years ago when my eldest was in kindergarten I used to fix him lunch at noon and would be frustrated that he would never eat. In my mind, lunch was at noon and he should be hungry. Then I discovered that they were eating their snacks at 11:00. Well no wonder he wasn’t hungry! So, I adapted.
    Our kids change so fast but unfortunately I’m a slow plodding creature of habit. Sometimes it takes a few struggles before I realize *ting!* oh, yeah I guess that rule isn’t appropriate anymore.

    • patricia Oct 22, 2010 @ 8:30

      Slow, plodding creature of habit…I can relate to that label!

      This bit of wisdom doesn’t come naturally for me. But that little *ting* does seem to come faster, the further I get into this mothering thing. 🙂

  • Kristin Oct 21, 2010 @ 8:47

    Nice quote.

    There’s another saying, I’m not sure who said it, but it’s sort of akin to the Calkins’ quote:

    “It is, however, very helpful if we can focus on what children are doing rather than on what we wish they would do.”

    but it is something like:

    When we are frustrated (at someone), what we are really wishing, is for that person to be more like our-self.

    As adults, our opinions seem to fly into our mind and out of our mouth readily. It’s only natural because of our age and experience to have an immediate reaction to anything.

    It’s containing our thoughts that is often troublesome. (And hiding our thoughts is not so easy either. I can tell what my Mom is thinking without her having said a word.) Keeping quiet. Holding blurts. This is something I have to remind myself to do with our three kids, or in a group of people; as much as I remind myself to suck my tummy in and pull back my shoulders. I guess our reaction is an action an extrovert must forever learn to control.

    • patricia Oct 22, 2010 @ 8:36

      I don’t think of myself as an extrovert, but still I have to work at keeping my thoughts in, so my kids can own their learning. Reminding ourselves to hold our tongues is a lot like reminding ourselves to suck in our bellies! It takes discipline.

      Kids have so much wisdom, and we see it if we take the time to look for it.

  • Darcie Oct 23, 2010 @ 20:33

    Great quote and post. Thanks for sharing.

  • susan Oct 24, 2010 @ 13:24

    That is a great quote. I remember being at Tahoe by the lake a few years back. A toddler walked up from the water and dumped a bucket of water in the middle of the family blanket. The mom very calmly said, “Hey buddy, what are you doing with the water?” “I’m washing the sand off the blanket.” I am fairly sure that I never would have found that out. I would have been too annoyed to ask. I often remind myself of that when I find myself wishing the kids weren’t doing something. It is a little different from your quote, but in the same spirit, I think. Sometimes we have to really look at what they are doing to see that it is not what we thought at all. I love your “spots on the farm” in the sidebar, by the way.

    • patricia Oct 24, 2010 @ 17:32

      I think your story is directly related to the quote. Sometimes the only way we can really understand what kids are doing is to ask them. That’s what Calkins did in her example. If we don’t ask, we often jump to our own, wrong conclusions.

      Oh, to be as patient and child-centered as that mother in Tahoe!

      Thanks for noticing how I’m trying to organize things around here. A blogging/writing friend suggested that I try to make my blog an accessible resource, so that’s what I’m working on.

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