ALIKE AND DIFFERENT
Children do not look like adults. Anyone can tell the difference. It is not only size, but also shape. Children’s heads are inordinately large in proportion to the body, noses are small, chins recede. But also these things change constantly. They start out quite small, but double the body weight in a month or two, which adults would not dare do. They grow in spurts, sometimes it seems like overnight. Legs stay short for quite a while then suddenly get long and spindly. Clothes are outgrown again and again. From 20 inches or so they come up sometimes to six feet or more. The pudgy baby becomes a beanpole, and then fills out in the teen years quite beautifully.
Adults keep changing also, but not so dramatically. Hair turns gray, wrinkles emerge, but that is about all. We don’t have to constantly adapt to changes in size and shape. This is an important difference. We are aware of it but don’t think about it very much. We vaguely remember peering over the edge of the dining room table on tiptoe or climbing up on chairs. We put these things behind us, quite properly.
However, when we live with children we should dig down into the memories so that we realize what they are going through, how as soon as they learn how to use legs they suddenly lengthen, how huge the furniture is, how far you much open your mouth to accommodate a spoon, how scary is the large toilet. For years nothing fits them. Their own furniture usually consists of a crib (in the shape of a cage) and a highchair to be set at the table. Homes are set up to fit adults and children are considered pre-adults. If you get furniture to fit them you would need to change it every few years.
Children come into the world weighing six to nine pounds, and will eventually attain a weight of at least one hundred and sometimes more than two hundred pounds. This is not gained regularly, two pounds a year. Sometimes the pounds and inches seem to come overnight. To children this seems quite normal and quite pleasant. They cannot understand the compacency of adults who don’t need to concern themselves with such things. Their legs are short for years, so when they fall it is not as traumatic as it is for us. They fall and hurt themselves every day and cannot fathom why the adult is upset when it happens to him or her. They are expected to get up and brush themselves off after a mishap which would cause injury to an adult.
Children do not think the way adults think. For this reason adults usually think that they do not think at all and must be taught to think when they go to school. Any adult who thinks in this way should try to remember how it used to be when he or she was a child and listened in on adult conversations.
We all come into the world without much control of the body, we don’t get up and walk for a year or so, whereas a horse rises on its legs within the hour. However, the number of possible human bodily accomplishments far exceeds that of the horse. You know that if you ever read the sporting pages of the newspaper. Our movements await the control of the mind, and the mind is ready from day one. Before we can even hold up our heads we can look, we can listen, and we can think as well as any human being of any age. We only have less information. Some of our very best looking and listening and thinking come before we can even crawl across the room. We are designed that way. When the time comes to walk we know where we want to go.
As adults we cannot remember much before we were about three years old, so that our own babyhood is a complete blank. Therefore we tend to think that babies are unaware of what is going on. Certainly we don’t think they understand anything much before they talk at about two years old. But children up to four or five years can remember quite far back. Actually we all remember everything, but we don’t think about it. We take for granted what we know and use it in present situations. There is no use going over the old thoughts. There are too many new ones. But if we think that children are unaware because they don’t say anything we deceive ourselves mightily. Did you ever try to hide Christmas presents? Successfully?
Just as the body changes selectively, according to plan, the mind comes along with its own changes, changes that we have lived through and vaguely remember. In the first six years the child takes in everything like a sponge, and these things are fixed firmly in the mind. Nature makes the child inert so that he or she can spend every waking moment looking and listening and setting up categories in the mind for each new sight and each new sound, each new smell, each new taste. Nature also gives the child an overpowering desire to do this, so much so that if you leave it in a crib with nothing to see but the ceiling it will wail in despair. If you understand this you will find a big basket and drag it all over the house to give the small one lots of scope.
Scientists tell us of new findings that show new neurons actually forming in the brain with each new sensation, showing that intelligence is building up. Aristotle said that there is nothing in the mind that was not first in the senses, so you see that Nature is quite wise in forcing the young child to concentrate on the senses before going on.
During these early years children pay close attention to every sensation, no matter how small. Adults pay attention too, but usually only to those sensations that have to do with what we think is important. Children have no thought of relative importance. Everything is grist to the mill, everything goes into the mind as a whole and is sorted out later. It is a different way of learning. To aid this the child is given a photographic memory, such a memory as he or she will never have again. Their eyes and ears are inordinatly sharp. If you lose your car keys it is the 3-year-old who will find them for you. It is the small child who cares anything at all about the differences in pitch of the Chinese language. They cannot help paying such close attention.
Adults are indulgent about this, but it is hard to accept the fact that we have lost these powers, so we say we have “outgrown” them, as if it were an advantage. Children think the powers are quite natural, that everyone has them, and cannot understand adults who gloss over such things. It seems most unreasonable to them, but soon they learn not to talk about it.
Some adults, usually artists and musicians, have retained the power of attention to these things. Perhaps they are immature because they refused to go on. We call them geniuses because they are so few in number.
It takes a lot of effort to gain control of an everchanging body. You must try out every possible movement and see what happens. You must not be discouraged if you fall down or get a bad taste in your mouth from something. You must accept all setbacks, all frustrations. You might howl a little at fate when you sit down hard, but you take it all in stride. Failure is barely noticed. Success is greeted with triumph. The more obstacles you have overcome the greater the triumph. The last thing you want is for someone to stop you or try to help you too much. When the road was opened to Pike’s Peak most mountain climbers were quite disappointed.
Adults think they must save children from failure and frustration, not realizing a bit how much of it they know about from early babyhood. But then adults look at things quite differently.
Children are programmed to fit into their culture, and use adults for this purpose. They imitate their movements, the sounds of their voices, even their facial expressions. They work hard to figure out all the intricacies of social interaction. Usually nobody tells them in advance how to act so they sometimes go haywire when they don’t know what is expected of them.
When we have passed this sensorial, orientational period we go on to wider things but not bigger tle to do this when forced to, but usually they do not like it. The teachers try to make the work interesting, “like a game” as if no learning had ever gone on before. Children are by this time able to cope with the adult world, are indulgent toward adults, but they do learn how to manipulate them quite well.
by Marietta Rawson