Today’s post is written by my talented colleague Kelsie Castro, who works with the younger children on the Yellow Side. After returning from their professional development retreat to Portland to visit The Opal School she reflects on a profound question sparked by a simple moment…which illustrates the power of truly listening to children, and what kind of thinking can grow from ordinary moments.
After coming to the table for lunch one Monday afternoon, I posed a question to the children that I hoped might allow us to connect as we enjoyed our meal: What did you do this weekend? Clea seemed especially excited to share. She told a story about how her and her sister Laurel had set up a tea party where they gave love to one another. Intrigued by the this idea I asked Clea, how do you give someone love?
Her response moved me.
“I put my heart in her heart and she puts her heart in mine and that’s how we give love.”
We continued to talk about this idea after she shared her thoughts,
with different children giving their own interpretations of how people give love.
“When two people love each other, they hug and hearts come out of their mouth.”– Olivia R.
“When I was little, I went in the pool with my clothes and my daddy got me out. I think that was really sweet.” – Bowie
Even I joined in when Clea asked me how my brother, who I had told her about that morning, gives me love.
In that moment I didn’t realize what this question really meant to our children and community as a whole. I could feel from my own emotional response to the question and the emotions that I had seen expressed in my small lunch group that it was something important, something that our children thought about. But I still couldn’t figure out why.
I reflected on this conversation for a while and decided that I needed to bring it to our larger group to truly understand the children’s perspectives of it. The following Monday we had a conversation about feelings that I hoped would set the foundation for that larger discussion. While reading the story “In My Heart” by Jo Witek, I encouraged the children to talk about times when their heart felt happy, sad, silly, brave, or broken. The children
responded with a variety of different answers.
“My heart is happy.” – Beatrice
“When I cry, it (my heart) feels brave. I’m brave right now. – Grace
“When I bump my head, I feel brave.” – Ethan
“My heart is broken. I just go to the Dr. when my heart feels broken.” – Elliotte
On Tuesday we continued this conversation in our morning meeting with the introduction of “You Are My Sunshine”, a song that Rebecca had introduced to our downstairs group the week before. After sharing this song with our upstairs group, I told them how it reminded me of the conversation I had at my lunch table because it was a way that my grandma used to give me love. As soon as I said this Colton responded:
“My nana sings that too!”
I recognized this connection between Colton and I and opened the conversation to the rest of our group. Asking them to share some of the ways that people they know give
them love or some of the ways they give love to the people they care about.
“I was holding a Husky Dog. I give her a ride in the wagon.” – Imogene
“My mom and dad show me love.” – Caroline
“My mom give me cuddles before she work.” – Farrah
“She (mom) cuddles with me.” – Edith
“I play with Julian. Yeah, yeah. We’re silly together like this.” – Nathaniel
“I go in my mommy’s bed.” – Colton
After hearing these responses, I reflected on what was said for the next few days, considering how the things that were shared were represented in children’s interactions. It is in watching the children and really thinking about this larger concept of love that I began to understand what giving love to and among children really means.
An inquiry like this is one that is extremely relevant not just to the people within our community, but to the world. The idea of love is a complicated one and unfortunately something that people have a difficult time embracing. So many other questions emerge when we talk about love.
What does it really mean to give love?
How do we show our love to the people close to us?
How does it feel when we love someone?
How does it feel when someone loves us?
These questions have been year long wonderings for me, especially with how much I have been challenged to reflect on my own means of connecting with the people and children around me. Practically from the instant we walk into the door at the beginning of each school year we witness and are part of acts of love. We see children and families sharing special moments in the morning and sometimes difficult goodbyes. We see old friends excitedly greeting one another and watch as new friends eyes first meet. In these moments and many more, we are observing the giving and receiving of love.
There have been many times throughout my day where I have been overwhelmed with wondering how I could give all the children around me, seeking my attention, the love that they deserve. In those moments it feels like an impossible undertaking to give all these children the different types of love they needed without leaving someone out. As much as we would like to give each person in our lives that one on one attention all the time, it’s not always possible. It is in these moments when we must really consider what it means to love.
What I didn’t realize as I considered this thought was that the answers were all around me. As I looked around our classroom the last few days I realized that love surrounds us. It is in the way our children comfort a friend or share their interests with someone new. It is in the stories they tell, the conversations they have, and the excited way that they look at one another (or us) when they have just discovered something new. It is in the moments where we sing songs together, listen to stories, or share memories of our day. It is in a smile, an embrace, a kiss, or loving game of wrestling on the hill. It is in helping each other through struggles, supporting each other’s ideas, and in celebrating each other’s triumphs. It is in seeing each other even when we don’t want to be seen, and being present in those times when we need it the most.
“I’m here Atlas. I’m here.”- Lillian
What I learned about love as I watched the children in our classroom is how natural it is for them to engage in those acts of kindness, empathy, and connection. Opening up to others and giving them a piece of our heart (as Clea might say) means being vulnerable. When you give a piece of your heart to someone you are trusting them not to break it, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. You are trusting them not to anger it, but that doesn’t mean they won’t still upset you. You are trusting them to keep it safe, and while that hopefully will be the case, it’s never a guarantee. But in spite of all these things, these fears that often hold adults back, children are still willing to give, to trust, and to openly and honestly feel. They are still so willing and able to give their love.
The great thing about the space we have created within our school is that it is one where both children and adults feel safe to open their hearts and minds to others. Where they feel comfortable entrusting others with a piece of their hearts and being vulnerable to a variety of feelings and experiences because of that. Within our small community we have created the “safe-to-risk” zone that the teachers and I heard so much about at Opal School and transformed it into a “safe-to-be/feel/act” zone. It is through the creation of this space where these connections can thrive and where an act of giving your heart to someone else, can transform lives in magical and meaningful ways. In this space love can challenge us, inspire us, nurture us, and help us grow. It is in this space where the giving of love is in fact an education within itself.