Updated: May 8, 2021
A typical day at Sahaj has a flow where children come in, hang up their bags at the designated place, play, eat, and leave for home.
However, one day instead of leaving for home, immediately after snack time, the children were playing with Snowy, a soft toy that the group had adopted as their own child. Snowy had been badly injured and needed a lot of band-aids. As we, the parents, got busy with an adult conversation, I was consumed by self-doubt: which skill did the children learn in play today?
Suddenly, we heard very loud shouts from the garden: “Kill her, kill her!” I ran downstairs to our garden to check on the chaos.
What I saw downstairs was an angry crowd of children collectively pretending to kill a puppet by drowning it in the pond and pointing guns at the puppet since the children had collectively decided to punish said puppet for harming their pretend child, Snowy. I could feel the anger in their body language and excited voices. A couple of children who typically have a calmer temperament had also joined the aggressive crowd and each and every child was baying for the puppet’s blood.
There are various ways of teaching children the importance of being kind, compassionate, courageous, empathetic and fair. The common accepted practice seems to be to narrate heroic stories or offer long explanations. However, we could instead attempt a far more effective method of trusting children and letting them observe our words and actions as they grow up.
As adults, we need to ask ourselves, should we teach children to be "good people" or could we support children to draw on their own potential?
What if we could ask the ‘Father of our nation’, as well as the advocate of a revolutionary education philosophy, Nai Taleem, Mahatma Gandhi on how could we teach children to be fair? How could we teach children to be courageous?
I suspect with reasonable conviction, Gandhiji would have perhaps advised us: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Most of us as responsible citizens (including me) wish to see a world where no living being is ever lynched by an angry crowd.
Remembering Mahatma Gandhi's words, in this moment of excited voices demanding retribution on the puppet who had wronged them by “almost killing” their child, I chose to “model compassionate courage” and I said with a calm air of confidence, “I am going to save this lady.” Hearing this, the guns quickly shifted in my direction. All the children started threatening me with their plastic guns. I could see similarities in how an angry adult mob functions.
With a calm spirit, I walked towards the periphery of the pond and rescued the puppet by pulling it out of water and saving it from being killed. Now, the children started quarrelling with me, screaming at me for rescuing an alleged killer who had almost killed their dear child, Snowy. Apparently, I had become the ‘bad’ person here.
I listened to all the excited and angry voices in silence and the moment I found a pause, I said, with calm composure in a non-didactic tone, “I think, a judge should decide in a court of law.” Cosimo, aged 6, instantly offered himself as the judge and passed a verdict that the lady needs to go to jail where food and water will be provided along with opportunities to become a better person. Our 6 year old judge pronounced that she needs to be imprisoned until she becomes a "good person". In other words, the puppet needs to be imprisoned until she is reformed. Maybe, as a society, we can learn from our 6 year old judge and replace the idea of punishing criminals with the idea reforming criminals.
In hindsight as I re-collected the events of that day, I thought maybe, we could have made a suggestion to have a team of lawyers. Each side could perhaps have presented the facts in a mock courtroom. However, I reconciled myself by saying, not all lessons have to be learnt in one day.
As children navigate the world creating their own knowledge of the world, perhaps for a few children-the learning from an adult rescuing the puppet in the midst of an angry crowd with guns in their hands- might be immediate and for a few others, it is an act that will linger on in their memory long after they become adults.
As their facilitators who are committed to supporting their learning, we can only wish and model, (and not expect) that they display compassionate courage at different stages in their lives.
At the end of the day, my self-doubt was replaced with reassurance of the core values of Sahaj. Here, I paraphrase what a leading play educator, Teacher Tom* once mentioned in his blog-post- we will never know what children will learn on any given day in a true play-based school. To claim that we know what children will learn is a gross misunderstanding of our knowledge on how children learn.
Hence, my passing self-doubt on this day was once again replaced with a firm belief that it only through play we can truly educate all the senses of human beings.
*Please be free to visit Teacher Tom's website http://teachertomsblog.blogspot.com/ to read his profound posts on child led play, democratic kindergartens and education.