The task of the educator

We should have known he'd pull something. Grady, just minutes before his Houdini-like escape, Virginia Beach, June 2014

We should have known he was about to pull something.
Grady, just minutes before his Houdini-like escape, Virginia Beach, June 2014

“The first idea that the child must acquire, in order to be actively disciplined, is that of the difference between good and evil; and the task of the educator lies in seeing that the child does not confuse good with immobility and evil with activity…”
Maria Montessouri

Any adult who interacts with a young child is an educator, whether or not we realize it.  Since children tend to be active, uninhibited and curious, we often end up saying mostly “no” or “stop that” or “don’t do that.” There’s nothing wrong with helping a child learn what is unacceptable or dangerous.  But Montessouri wisely points out that there is a hidden risk to such counsel.  We don’t want to unintentionally encourage the child to be passive or to fear action.

Though my parents were not overprotective, I was a nervous child as far back as I can remember.  My own hypervigilance created a self-imposed inhibition on my activities that superseded the few restrictions my parents ever placed on me. This may be why I became such a bookworm (not a bad thing), but it also may explain why I was reluctant to venture farther than my own comfortable world until I was in my late teens.

When our children were infants, Jeff and I felt our shared tendency toward anxiety kick into overdrive, and I’m afraid we were a bit too restrictive of their early attempts at activity.  It’s an easy mistake to make, when your baby starts crawling at four months and promptly gets into the bathroom cabinet and drinks a bottle of perfume (as Drew did) or shows absolutely no fear of the ocean, and runs into sweeping waves before anyone can catch him (as Matt did).  Nothing like a couple of close calls to set the mental alarm systems on permanent “high alert” status.  But that may have made life less enjoyable for all of us than it could have been.

I’m happy to say that our grandson’s parents don’t seem to be making this mistake.  As a grandmother, I’m a bit more laid back and philosophical about what babies do, so I’ve been delighted to see that Drew and Megan don’t freak out when Grady crawls around on less-than-pristine surfaces, or puts “dirty” (not sterilized) objects into his mouth, or plays with objects not manufactured by Fisher-Price or approved by some pediatrician with an official-looking seal.

It’s true that Grady gets the occasional “ding” in the form of a little bruise on his forehead, or a similar badge of exploration. But he’s probably at least as safe, if not safer, than my children were.  And I think he’s having as much fun.  In fact, I think he may be having even more fun!  Besides, even being very cautious is no guarantee of safety.

For example: Grady recently gave Megan and me panic attacks while we were shopping for groceries, when he somehow escaped his snugly-fastened seat belt and stood up in the grocery cart seat during the sixty seconds our backs were turned while we read baby food labels.  Thank goodness we saw him standing there before he fell out.  His fastened seat belt lay around his ankles, but how he got out of it we will never know. Parents, be aware that grocery cart seat belts are not escape-proof!

I’m not advising people to stop saying “no” to children.  I am advising an awareness of all the safe and reasonable ways to say “yes” or “try this instead” or “UH-OH! Need some help with that?” Admittedly, this takes more time and close attention than simply saying “stop that.” But it’s time well invested.

Even as an adult, I tend to err on the side of caution. It has taken me years to realize that inaction can be as costly — indeed, more costly — than taking a calculated risk now and then.

If you have active, busy children, grandchildren or neighbors in your life, enjoy them!  Don’t hesitate to help them learn behaviors that are safe, considerate AND actively curious.  If you’re like me, you’ll find there is a lot of truth to the old saying that children keep us young.

For a demonstration, I invite you to enjoy one of our recent Grady videos, which puts a smile on my face every time I watch it.  Or just have a few quiet chuckles at the Silly Old Grandmother and her home movies, and take a pass.  No one will ever know.  😀   An early Happy Birthday wish to Grady AND his Mom, Megan, both born in July!

One year ago today:

A big journey

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.


  1. Good morning, Julia!
    There sure is a big difference between smiles – grooving to the beat versus in the shopping cart! But, both show a kid who knows he’s loved.
    (I do wonder what goes through their little minds, when they get that scheming look…. It seems like an early attempt at making a joke, in some fashion?)

    • I think they’re actually scheming. Maybe on a different level than when they get older, but the same basic activity.

      • Well, in that case, I find it interesting that scheming would innately cause us to smile! There must be an inherent pleasure in the “scheming” process!
        Admittedly, I smile when scheming to build something decorative and functional, but do I smile when I’m planning to be deliciously naughty??! Ha! I guess that’s likely, too! But not when it could be hurtful to others, I hope.

        • It’s interesting that the British use of the word “scheme” is very different from ours, from what I have observed. It lacks the pejorative connotation we often attach to it. For example, a set of totally neutral documents, such as architectural drawings or meeting agendas, is often referred to as a “scheme.” Not all schemes are fun, of course, especially not adult ones. But in a toddler, it’s sure to be something fun, happy or amusing, and almost certainly not meant to be harmless (although it might be something dangerous, as Grady’s escape from his cart “seatbelt” was). Most toddlers are too young to have other uses for scheming.

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