EDUCATING SRI LANKA
CHILD RARITIES Of dreamers and achievers
BY Goolbai Gunasekara
In his often quoted poem ‘Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood,’ William Wordsworth wrote: “But trailing clouds of glory do we come from God, who is our home…”
Indeed, this gave rise to discussion among poetic analysts as to whether some of the Lake Poets could have believed in rebirth.
This column is not intended to be a forum for religious debate but I use this famous quotation as a starting point of my analysis of children who enter kindergarten classes displaying certain dreaminess and a noncompetitive attitude from the start of their school careers – indeed, seemingly trailing those clouds of glory.
Childhood experts such as Madame Montessori, Friedrich Froebel and Rudolf Steiner of the Waldorf schools anticipated modern psychology, which accepts that the child who doesn’t conform to accepted patterns from the beginning isn’t backward at all.
Unfortunately, until now education had rather rigid frameworks. The systems of grading, giving marks and positions, and written reports based on those marks, and awarding class promotions annually are now regarded as being extremely self-defeatist.
Those ‘clouds of glory’ that Wordsworth wrote about may still surround a child for the first years of his or her life and it’s now believed that such a child finds it hard to adjust to the company of too many children. Too much guided play and a regulated timetable are anathema to such children.
It assails their nerves and they withdraw into themselves. Noise can upset them. Rough play actually hurts them. What many teachers regard as normal can be totally upsetting to these children who are unusually sensitive and introverted but not autistic.
Until recently, the world judged such nonconformist children to be academically backward because those mark sheets, class positions and ubiquitous reports gave parents the idea that their child was not keeping up with other children.
It didn’t occur to either parent or teacher that the child was what is now recognised as being different in a way that has nothing to do with academics or classroom behaviour. In fact, affluent countries have special schools and systems for such children who may be achievers like their peers but study under methods that are more conducive to their personalities.
Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury of such schools in Sri Lanka; but today, all trained kindergarten teachers try to give the dreamy children in their classes a little extra understanding, which makes all the difference. Many of these children are late developers and their needs are ambiguous because they’re too young to know what they want.
Furthermore, many such youngsters are highly imaginative and children under the age of five or six often cannot distinguish fact from fiction. One child hated to leave home to spend the day with a friend. Her mother insisted on her doing this in the hope that it would make the child more outgoing.
“She will enjoy the company, won’t she?” her mother asked me.
“What does she say?”
“If I listened to her, she would be quite happy playing by herself.”
“What does she play?”
“She has tea with her dolls and dresses them up.”
Since the little girl was seven, her mother was seriously unhappy about her daughter’s lonely pastime.
Another case was that of a child who talked to herself and according to her mother, preferred doing this to being with others.
“Many children talk to imaginary playmates,” I told her. “I did so myself.”
“So what is there to talk about?”
‘Is she an only child?”
“Goodness, no! She is the third and the other two are quite normal.”
There it was again. Normalcy! What is ‘normal’ for one child is not ‘normal’ for another. The little girl was six.
“Does she need a psychiatrist?”
At the mother’s request, I chatted to her. Her one-way talks were not a secret.
“So Tara, what do you and your friends talk about?” I asked her.
“They’re tiny people.”
“Fairies, you mean?”
“They have no wings. But they tell me what they play.”
“What do they play?”
“A numbers game that I can join.”
This little girl is now married with children of her own. Her degree in psychology helps her understand dreamy children.
A warning: refrain from accusing your very young offspring of lying! Parents are not always attuned to the airy-fairy climate their child temporarily inhabits. If kids are lying, let them feel guilty. They will.
“I didn’t throw ink on the sheets,” I told my psychologist principal mother, self-righteously. “The Bungalow Baba (my imaginary playmate) did it.”
“Just make sure she never does it again,” my understanding mother replied.
To this day, I’m remorseful. I was old enough to know I was hiding behind an old excuse. It was my last attempt to recapture the identity of an ex-play