As Thanksgiving approaches, I’ve been having a think, like many of us, on all I am grateful for. During a course I am taking with Lynne Twist* and Tammy White, Lynne described gratitude as defined by renowned philosopher, lecturer, author and Benedictine monk Brother David. One branch of gratitude is that of feeling grateful for all that we already have. The other is of thanksgiving, the desire to give and share with others.
We were guided to picture sufficiency as a bowl filled to the brim with the great fullness of life. As we continue to feel grateful for this exquisite enough-ness, it flows over to the branch of thanksgiving. From this branch we are so filled with thanks that we feel the impulse to give generously and share deeply with others.
I am noticing that despite the more I desire, there is also great sufficiency in my life. For this I am very grateful. I’m now contemplating how to integrate my learning into my teaching. In taking a stand for peace, whether inner peace, communicating with others, or for a more peaceful world, I am realizing the important role that gratitude plays.
Conflict for preschoolers of all ages can arise from believing there is not enough. Not enough time, not enough love or attention, not enough materials and resources. Underneath the shouting or acting out for attention can be the fear that we won’t get what we want. It will run out before we get our share.
Despite an abundance of materials in the art room, an excellent teacher-to-student ratio, small groups and plentiful class time, there is often conflict. Early education teachers and parents understand this will always happen as the children learn to master their developmental tasks. But, what if there is also an underlying fear about scarcity? What if children believe there won’t be enough unless they are first, they shout the loudest, or they grab from each other?
On the other hand, if children come to believe that there is enough for everyone, would gratitude arise organically? Would trust in their being attended to and getting their share grow? How would interactions change if the attitude of gratitude and sufficiency was developed in early childhood?
As they grow into adults, would they strive for more creative solutions to the world’s inequities through believing there are enough resources for everyone? I am not a philosopher but I do like to think about tackling big problems in small ways with young children.
I am wondering how to teach this concept of sufficiency that I, myself, am grappling with to preschoolers. Is there some tiny bite-sized morsel that would be developmentally appropriate to introduce?
Guidelines for Teachers:
I’ve begun my inquiry by noticing incidents of not enough-ness and pointing out what I see to the children. I ask questions and make informed guesses as to what might help them feel more peaceful and reassured that there will be enough for everyone.
A. Examples of simple questions asked when they are involved in conflict or highly competitive behavior:
“I’m wondering, what is it about having to go first? Are you worried that you might not get a turn? Do you think there won’t be enough for you?”
When I directly address possible concerns with the children, they often validate my thinking or help me better understand theirs.
B. Creating a teaching moment. When you notice a particular behavior that the group is engaged in, inform them what you noticed.
· Name it. (Ex: I noticed that everyone wanted to go first or shouted out for help.)
· Gather the children for a small group discussion asking “What do you think might happen if…" (e.g., you had to wait, etc.)
C. Introducing the idea that there is enough for everyone, but sometimes we have to figure out how to make it so.
D. Wonder with the children: “What if there is enough for everybody? How much is enough? What would enough feel like?”
E. Brainstorm with other adults about how we can implement tools and strategies to demonstrate for the children that there IS enough. Enough time, enough attention, etc.
One such tool, invented out of necessity is the Q. The Q is a silvery cardboard letter on a piece of elastic that can go around the wrist. Originally a pun on the word queue, it worked better than forming a line and was more fun.
We make a game of it. I hand it to the first child, who hands it to another while he is being helped. Knowing that the next in line is the child holding the Q prevents shouting out for a turn. After helping one child, I sing out, “Who, who, who’s got the Q?” They sing back their name in reply and hand the Q to another child. It’s created more peace in the room.
Another simple tool is the Taking Turns List. Young children seem to love signing their name on a waiting list, particularly the 4- and 5-year-olds. Those who cannot yet write their names are often helped by their classmates. A mark can always be drawn by a child with an adult writing their name alongside.
I’ve found that the certainty of knowing when their turn will be is very reassuring. Also, the list-making becomes an activity in itself. Groups of children often gather around the list, enjoying the process.
Modeling gratitude and appreciation aloud is also an effective strategy. “I appreciate when you stopped your work to help your friend find the tape.” It is said that what we appreciate appreciates.
In the process of learning together with our students, a bridge to the children’s world grows stronger. For it is not only we adults who have much to teach the children; there is reciprocity.
As Buckminster Fuller is reported having said in Soul of Money**, “Remember, your children are your elders in universe time. They have come into a more complex, more evolved universe than you or I can know. We can only see that universe through their eyes.”
For this opportunity and the children themselves, I am also very grateful.
Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.
*Lynne Twist is a well-recognized philanthropist and fundraiser who serendipitously was one of the founding parents of the preschool that has housed my peace education program for the last 30 years. Thank you, Lynne. I am very grateful.
**Soul of Money, Lynne Twist, W.W Norton & Co, 2003, page 237