One of the things we do here at Organic Beginnings Preschool is use breakable items and make breakable crafts. Why? Isn't it hard on the kids?
Let me tell you exactly why. I had the perfect experience this past week to further illustrate exactly why I feel so passionate about this subject!
A friend of a friend type situation had a 16 year old end up stranded at the airport in our city and I got a call as I was climbing into bed to see if we could pick him up and bring him home for the night as the rescheduled flight wouldn't be leaving until morning. Sure. Put clothes back on and head out into the still 104 degrees at 10:00 pm that is Phoenix in July. We spent the next hour and a half in search of this kid at the airport. He was too uncomfortable to text us directly so there was an absurd 3 person text chain to try to figure out where he was. We finally found him crumpled in a wheelchair with an airport attendant tending to him. He was a healthy, 6 ft teenager with a skateboard on his lap but was overwhelmed with the situation at hand. He could not cope. He only grunted and mumbled as we loaded him up in the car and took him home.
We got him situated in an extra bed, offered him food and drink and said our goodnights. He proceeded to wail and sob while on the phone with his mother for about 3 more hours after he was tucked safely into bed. His brain could not recover from a fairly minor change of plans. At no point was this kid in any physical danger or under threat of any sort. A flight was canceled and rescheduled for the morning. He knows both of my daughters, who are of similar age. He was rescheduled on a flight they would both be on and I would deliver all of them to the airport in the morning. This kid is not special needs or has been diagnosed with mental illness. He was just unable to cope with change, cope with disappointment and had no emotional resilience.
This is exactly why we work with things that break in preschool. Children really need practice in getting through challenges and feeling disappointment and being able to move through it. Not at all surprising, was the mother’s long text tirade to the 3rd party who called to ask me if I could pick him up- mentioning all the ways that the situation was not handled correctly by me and how she felt her child had been mistreated and neglected by us - while he kept us up all night wailing and talking to his mom on speaker phone until 3 am. This is a mother who has enabled a pretty emotionally inept child. This mother will no doubt be calling up his employers when he is 30 years old telling them how her child is too special for that job.
So, back to preschool. Things break. We get sad. We can move through this sadness.
So what to do when the clay bowl the child has just made breaks? Do we just shrug it off and say, “Hey kid, get over it!” Nope. We empathise. We see their pain. We be with their discomfort. And we DO NOT TRY TO FIX IT! We don’t run off for the super glue so their pain is minimized. We just be with them. “Oh, you just spent so much time on that… that is disappointing. It is delicate. Next time, maybe you will remember to be extra gentle and careful with it so it won’t break.” and then wait. If they are crying just sit with them while they cry. No need for any more words. Just your loving, supporting presence it enough. The child will process their pain and when you see the big triple inhale after a good cry, they will be able to move on. The body has just processed that situation. Congratulations, they are building emotional resiliency that will serve them very well in this life. Now you can ask the child, “What would you like to do with it?” If they say they would like to try to fix it, work together to go get some glue and maybe even tell them the story about how in Japan they believe that a broken dish can be even more beautiful with the crack in it and how they emphasize the crack often with gold.
The most important part in all of this is the adult’s attitude towards the break. If the adult is harsh and blaming, “Well, I told you to be careful. Now it’s broken- deal with it.” then the child will grow up to feel shameful about their mistakes. If the parent runs to fix it, the child will expect the parent to fix their problems forever and will develop very poor coping skill as the story above illustrates. If the parent becomes alarmed, “Oh, no! It’s broken!” the child will feel like their mistakes are an emergency that shouldn’t have happened. And if a parent is centered, peaceful, present and empathetic with the broken item, the child will learn to cope with all of life’s challenges in a similar manner.
Our children’s world have become increasingly unbreakable, spill proof and immovable. Playgrounds are lined with blue foam, sippy cups don’t tip or spill and dishes and glasses are rarely used by children...because… gasp… they might break. All of this convenience has left our children in a world that minimizes the opportunity to practice resilience and care. When we can throw anything onto the ground without a care of breaking or spilling, we are creating a careless person. Yes, it’s a short term convenience but a long term disservice to the child.
When I started in this profession 30 plus years ago, it was common knowledge that a 15 month old could start to use a cup to drink out of. Now, I get 3 year olds coming to preschool who have literally never drank out of a glass before and pour the entire thing down their front because they expect a straw to be attached to the glass somehow. If we would have had a video clip of this behavior 30 years ago, we couldn’t have possibly imagined how a typical developed 3 year old would not know how to drink from a cup. But it happened. It is happening. This is not a one-off. And it’s a problem. Children need the opportunity to fail, to make mistakes and to spill! A clay dish breaking will not harm the child in any way, but will offer opportunity to develop their skills around caring for something delicate, moving through disappointment if it breaks and feeling confident to handle life’s little bumps in the road.
So, that is my long winded explanation of why we make crafts and use items that break. It is real life and your kids can handle it...if you can.
To delve further into this subject here are a few great videos on the topic: