Thursday, April 12, 2012

Stop To See The Rainbows

A colleague today referred to a quote by Mohandas Gandhi: “There is more to life than increasing its speed.”   This quote made me think of all of the gifted children (and adults) I know who are proud of the speed with which they can do everything from reciting the alphabet to finishing a crossword puzzle.  Children are bombarded by speed tests in school, applauded for finishing their homework quickly, and praised for reading a book in record time.  But what are we doing to children by instilling this sense that speed is good?

One result of our “need for speed” is that children are not given time to truly think about what they are doing, to learn from it, to expand on an idea, to question its validity, to relate it to something else.  When we focus on how quickly we can accomplish a task, the task becomes meaningless.   The joy of the journey is removed, replaced with a need to reach the destination.

When my children were small, they jokingly referred to my attempts to help them to see the value in the journey as “stopping to see the rainbows” rather than “taking time to smell the roses” because whenever I would spot a rainbow, I would stop everything so that we could marvel at its beauty.  If I was driving, I would pull the car over to the side of the road.  If we were outside playing, I would stop the game while we gazed, contemplated, and discussed the rainbow.  These rainbows were symbolic for me.  They were an opportunity to impress upon my children how important it is to stop sometimes and really notice your surroundings, to see the beauty in the world, to slow down.  A short time ago, my sister and I drove from Portland, Maine to Boston, Massachusetts to attend a flower show.  The drive only takes 2 hours; however, our return trip took us more than six hours.  The destination was not our joy.  It was the journey.  We rambled around Boston, visited Cambridge, saw a sign for a restaurant that evoked memories of childhood and veered off the road to eat there.  We chatted about a store we had read about somewhere in southern Maine and simply left the highway to find it, stopping to ask people along the way for directions.  When I told my sons about this adventure, they laughed and one of them said, “So you stopped to see the rainbows, huh?”

The next time your child reads a book quickly and you are very proud of that fact, take a few minutes to ask about the story.  Discuss the characters, the plot, the ramifications of the protagonist’s actions, how the story would have been different if a single event had changed.  You can do this with any child at any age and any type of book.  I remember having long discussions one day with my young child about the “Little Engine That Could.”  

It is important for children to learn their Arithmetic facts, and if they enjoy reciting them quickly, let them do it.  But when they are finished, make sure that they understand what they just did.  What are numbers?  What is multiplication?  What is addition?  When did they start?  Why are they important?  Does everyone use the same system?  Why?  Why not?  If we impress upon children at a young age that speed is not the goal, but true understanding is the goal, perhaps education will be more meaningful.

In this fast-paced world, where speed seems to permeate everything we do, try to slow down sometimes, if not for yourself then for the message it sends to your child.  There truly is more to life than increasing its speed.  Make sure you stop to see the rainbows.

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