We can attempt to teach the things that one might imagine the earth would teach us: silence, humility, holiness, connectedness, courtesy, beauty, celebration, giving, restoration, obligation and wildness.
David Orr from "Earth in Mind"

Jul 11, 2007

Rethinking Structure vs Love perhaps its Rhythm

A few weeks ago I wrote this post about why teachers and other adults often say that children need structure. My basic argument was that the structure was a substitute for love. A few nights ago I literally woke up from a dream thinking about this. It occurred to me that while yes love is realistically gone from school relationships that isn't what the structure is replacing. Structure is replacing rhythm.

Rhythms are natural they tend (but not always) to be cyclical and can easily be mistaken for structure if you aren't looking carefully. In our family we have a pretty consistent day but most of it occurs at certain times because that is when they work best. Naps happen when Alder is tired, and since he usually gets up at the same time they usually happen around the same time. Meals are eaten not by the clock but by our stomachs which digest food over a certain period of time, but in the summer when it is very hot we eat less and less often because our bodies need less and the kitchen is too hot to spend a lot of time in. In the winter we eat more and more often, not only are our bodies working harder to keep us warm but we are drawn to the warmth of cooking and the kitchen.

While I am not a proponent of schools for our family specifically I know there are schools out there who follow a more rhythm oriented schedule, both daily and over the course of the year. I would guess that the difference between those two settings are more subtle and more telling. That being said I would also guess if you were to look at a day in our life and a day in the life of a family who impose their own structure that the difference would be striking.

Scheduled families also seem to be families who live disconnected from the natural rhythms of the day and year. How could someone who isn't aware of the cycle of the moon, for example, be expected to trust in letting natural rhythms run their course. These people not only seem to look at children as different creatures but they themselves would be afraid to live with out their day planners filled. The current Mothering Magazine has an article about a mother choosing not to sign her four year old up for soccer. The pressures to fill children's time with directed activities isn't only part of the whole over achievement craze but it is also a result of adults who do not know how to spend time just living.

Work fills most people's days not only at the office but afterwards either through additonal commitments or stress, beyond that there are gyms to join, reading groups to be part of and I haven't even started to talk about any religious, political or service commitments people give themselves. At first look there is something of value in each activity but any of these loose their value when they are crammed into a week where relaxing with a cup of tea is considered wasteful.

My bias is to say that a lot of this has to do with American's disconnect from nature. As animals we are bound to these rhythms but our intelligence has, as it often does, gotten the better of us. We are beyond conquering we have banished it to a picture frame next to visits to grandma and baking. The result of this separation is a constant searching for ways to fill the gaps, schedules take the place of rhythms, organized activities take the place of socializing with your neighbor. The one I always find the saddest are the people who go to the gym to run on the treadmills or ride the bikes while watching the Nature Channel or reading Outside Magazine when they could just as easily step out their front door and experience the world for themselves.

Love may not equal rhythm but for children being trusted to have their needs and feelings, and those of the families as a whole, to lead the way in the way that the day goes is a form of love. Alder may only be a year old but I already let him to for himself what he can and one of these ways is letting him choose when he is tired and when he is hungry. Every day he adds another thing that he does for himself, or chooses. The other side to this is that he knows that we are there to take care of every need he has, that he will be cuddled when he is cuddly, changed when he is wet, and loved always.


The Grocer said...

This made interesting reading, i think you have a good point about rhythm and allowing life to take it's natural course. I was reading this blog when a comment appeared from you in my mailbox, kinda spooky.

Melba said...

I love this post! So true. I believe in the Rhythm of our life. I know many moms who think I should schedule more, that children Must have a routine.
Following our own Rhythm is what works for me and my family and I know that is what matters most.

(for example it is 1:13 PM and we are still in our pj's. Not because we are overwhelmed or hiding, but because my children are happily playing!)