Wednesday, December 2, 2009
The Best Way to Learn
I was feeling rather claustrophobic. A purple fleece coat girl was piled on my lap, squirming the way only a four-year-old can squirm. We had an hour to wait. I would have been content to sit and quietly watch Bethie's gym class, but Avery had other plans.
She opened her book bag and pulled out Gossie and Gertie. I like Gossie and Gertie. We read and smiled, then put the book away. I watched a Bethie stunt or two, then felt another book land in my hands. Poppleton. I like Poppleton. We read and smiled, she squirmed and wiggled. I glanced again toward Bethie and gave her a thumbs up, only to be attacked by a volume of Henry and Mudge. I like Henry and Mudge. We read and I . . . tried to smile.
By this time I was even more claustrophobic. She couldn't possibly get any closer to me. Her big shiny black boots were grinding into my thighs and her hair kept flying into my mouth. That's close. I attempted to peel the child from my lap. I succeeded only in that her rump landed on the chair next to mine. Every other part of her body still overflowed into my lap. Well, at least I could breathe.
Now it was my turn. I pulled out a book. "Avery, you get to read this one to Mommy now." She hesitated, linked her arm firmly in mine, and took a dive. "I w-w-w" she began. "Want," I prompted. "I - want - a - pet," she completed the first sentence. I smiled and kissed the forehead with pleasure. "Good job!" She grinned and continued, slowly tackling word after word, page after page, until the very end. My heart swelled. Maybe I don't mind the lack of personal space quite so much, after all.
I recently read in Catherine Marshall's book, Christy, about the importance of physical touch in a child's life. Of course I've heard this before, but it's fascinating to consider touch as it relates to learning. Christy recounts,
After I had been teaching for a while, I began to realize how hungry my pupils were for love expressed in physical contact. They were forever reaching for me, touching me, squeezing me . . . . At first I had not realized the significance of this yearning for touch . . . . . But then I stumbled on the link between the need for touch and a child's ability to learn. Three of my beginners . . . were having a great deal of trouble learning to read. When I would take them one by one on my lap and give them a lesson, they learned twice as fast.
I'm making a conscious effort now to touch my children as I teach -- not only the academic courses, but life courses as well. As we pray together in bed, Bethie snuggles up to me. I rub her back or stroke her hair. Avery burrows into me like a little bunny, claiming that she has to smell me (I hope that's a good thing). The boys like to hold hands in prayer, all three of us in a mini circle. These tender moments are developing a habit. A habit that I hope will deeply instill in them a love for their siblings and a love for prayer.
Tonight I was doubly rewarded for my gym hour of claustrophobic long suffering. Finally showered and snuggled in bed, my girls were ready to pray. And as I prayed, I noticed a little Avery hand gradually stealing toward her sister. She began to gently scratch her back, knowing that a back rub is exactly what her big sister likes best. Not only is my baby learning to read, my baby is learning to love.