Monday, September 27, 2010

Tiny Wrist, Tiny Watch

 "Clocks slay time... time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life. "
~William Faulkner
Ah, the sadness of a clock. Its constant ticking turns present into past and hurries you into the future. Time to wake up. Time to eat. Time to plan. Time to work. Time to sleep. What a responsibility it is to recognize time! Even as an adult I struggle with my obligations to time and imagine that children must struggle too. This month Io started her 2nd year of pre-K and at four-years-old she too must give recognition to the clock.

Similar to our adult life where we must keep a schedule, in Io's class of four-year-olds there is time to eat, time to line up, time to wash hands, time to play, but mostly time to sit. If you know a 4-year-old, then you know this is a tall order. Now imagine 18 four-year-olds! In my fantasies, there are schools that are compassionate and empathetic. They realize the struggles that each child faces as they are being asked to take on huge responsibilities such as minding the time. They offer children support around the rules and limits they must follow to be successful and safe. They employ strategies that go beyond authoritarianism. Maybe these schools exist, but I'm sure I can't afford them. So Io goes  to a Headstart program where structure is king and flexibility is failure.

A typical school day involves rushing the children through each activity they must complete to meet the school's cirriculum guidelines. The need to control and restrict appears to have more weight than what is actually being taught. Most of the teachers' energies are focused on getting the children to line up and then sit down and then sit down and line up. I realize that this is the way most schools work. And I know most people will agree that the teachers are doing the right thing by preparing them for kindergarten, first grade, and essentially the "real world." I don't write here hoping to change anyone's mind about their parenting approach, but I can say that being supportive as opposed to punitive just feels right. I realize that there is very little I can do to change the school system, but I can support my daughter  by helping her deal with the harsh reality that we can't do what we want whenever we want to. Don't I have a hard time coping with going to work everyday? Don't I have a hard time having to pay the bills? Don't I have a hard time keeping it all together sometimes? 

Io showing off her watch
How do you explain to a 4 year old that it's a tough world out there and when you're big you're going to need to pay rent and get a job? I could stand over my kid and say, "You have to do what your teacher says!" I could punish her by not letting her watch Spongebob until she can follow directions at school. But when I think about the difficulties I face in keeping the schedule I must to survive, I think about how hard it must be for her, a 4-year-old whose brain is still developing, to accept the incredibly heavy responsibility of life. All I can do is empathize with her and tell her that I know it must be so hard and give her some tools to help her along the way.

So to support her in understanding her schedule at school her Dad and I took her to buy her first watch. She picked out a pink Timex equipped with Indiglo, her favorite feature. The salesman said Io was his youngest customer. I was surprised that they even made watches that small. Io was extremely proud, showing her watch off to strangers in the mall. I stood back and looked at her tiny wrist. Although the watch was small, it looked huge and heavy to me. I was saddened to see her wear the weight of time. Such an enormous responsibility for such a little person.

Last week she wore the watch to school and her teachers were very pleased to find that it worked! They were able to explain to her the activities she needed to do and what time she needed to do them. Not only did she understand better what she needed to, but she then even tried to help her friends understand that it was time to clean up and sit. I'm ecstatic that I was able to come up with a solution that didn't involve coerician, punishment, or fear.  I am, however, sad to see her shedding the innocence of her childhood and really feeling her struggle to get by in the world.


  1. Janine, this is beautifully written. I, too, have great sadness about Aria attending kindergarten and all that it entails. Even though she goes to a great public school and has a great teacher and there are great families in the community, I mourn the loss of her freedom. It began in pre-K, but now it seems like there is no turning back. And I know that there are other lovely schools that do not "live by the clock" and do not focus on conformity, but I cannot afford them either. I am sure she will succeed, in fact I think she will exceed in school, but I wonder at what cost. I was successful and excelled in school, but even as a 30-year-old I find myself obeying authority, conforming, even cowering.....I know better and am now able to question a many great things, but to be honest, it is not my instinct.....what will it be like for Aria, my daughter that is so much like me?

  2. Thanks for reading, Anita. Truth about the public school system, especially for the younger grades, is that they are being asked for so much at such a young age. Children now in K must know how to read and are subject to standardized testing. This leaves very little time for play, which is learning, and requires lots of time for sitting. There seems to be very little support to help young children along the way, with the exception of time out punishment, and other forms of public shaming which is not support at all. I think it's possible to get them through this model, and some will be successful, but like you said, at what cost. And what about the kids that don't respond to fear or punishment, like Io for example. What do you do then? It is clear that our schools aim to prepare them for obedience as opposed to critical thought. I hate to paint such a dismal picture. The best we can do is really be there for our kids, allow them to feel when they come home, and give them the tool they need to get by. And if we choose, we can take on the struggle to change the bigger picture.

  3. We all become slaves to time as adults, but is it necessary to start at such an early age to try to make young children be like us? I say that education needs to look at ways to make learning fun and developmentally appropriate to the age of the child. Children are not miniature adults so they should not be expected to act like us. They should be allowed to explore and learn within an environment of respect. Education has become to concept driven, never allowing students the chance to stop and ask why. As a Grammy and a Principal and I have the opportunity to observe children as they travel through the educational system. Unfortunately, many educational systems are not child friendly. The focus is on memorization and finishing the book. There is no time for fun-bring back activities that pair fun with learning! Smash the clock! (Miz O)

  4. Miz O, thanks for reading. Also, I didn't realize you were principal of OLV. Congrats! I can remember your calm expression when I would say frequent, off color remarks in your English class. =) Thanks for your comment. It's such a difficult balance to keep with little ones. You want them to be ready for the "real world", but, yes, it seems that the standard approach is to treat them like little adults.