As I was reflecting on our style of facilitation when children were seen punishing the puppet for apparently killing their pretend child, Snowy at Sahaj, in hindsight I wished we had enacted a court scene with lawyers and judges so as to arrive at a verdict- when the children had pretended to punish the puppet for apparently killing Snowy, their pretend child. As we all know, not all of life’s lessons need come on one day and hence, when an opportunity presented itself a few days later, this time with another puppet, I became the lawyer for the puppet, two children decided to be the judges and two children with guns in their hands decided to be the guards. As the defense lawyer, I argued, “My client will attempt to become a better person, if the judges could only offer my client one last chance.” However, the Honorable Judges gave a verdict that the puppet needed to be punished with jail-time where it would be helped to become a better person (or puppet!). This is how our children decided to be fair. The defending lawyer accepted the verdict of the court.
Post the session, a parent who had been a silent witness to the process asked a valid question, “Why didn’t you teach them that no one should go to jail? Why didn't you teach them that the puppet could be given an opportunity to change and the actions of the puppet could be explained to it instead of sending it off to jail?” I attempted to answer the questions as below: Firstly, we need to abide by the core principles of Sahaj. At Sahaj, children engage in self-directed play- that means they themselves direct what to play, how to play and when to play? Our job as facilitators is to be silent observers and intervene when a teachable moment appears or when there is a safety issue. The intention of Sahaj is also to nurture life skills in children.
Imagine, what happens to the self-confidence of children when an adult instead of preaching to them to do the honorable thing, accepts a fair verdict handed out by them in the courtroom?
In my eyes, it is in this small moment that we send out a very strong message to children; it is in this moment that the subconscious mind of the child receives a message that they have a voice and that voice matters. While it is important to teach children the merits of being fair, it is wise to wait for valuable opportunities that present themselves quite often during self-directed play. Secondly, our job as facilitators is different to that of a teacher. As a facilitator we try not to lecture children about being better human beings, rather we offer them opportunities to construct their own knowledge as they discover the world around them. Our job is to develop strategies that support growth in literacy; as well as encourage leadership, decision-making, meaningful exchanges and reflective discussions. Thirdly, children through their play are only reflecting the realities of the world which they observe and absorb from- incidents witnessed in public, on news channels, in videos, films, and from adult conversations, don’t they? In the world we live in, would a criminal be given a verdict to be rehabilitated outside jail? Is this what children have observed in their surroundings? The Russian psychologist Vygotsky* argued that culture affects cognitive development. In recent times, for example, we have observed children’s play incorporating life-during-a-pandemic. If, in March 2020, children started pretending to wear masks, by March 2021, children had started making Coronavirus vaccines by mixing coloured water. At Sahaj, we strive to create a space where the world is unfolded by children for themselves. While I would love to live in a Utopian world where people are not lynched or where convicted criminals are rehabilitated instead of being punished by incarceration in terrible conditions, that is not the way things are at present. How beautiful indeed would be such a world! However, we need to understand how children make sense of the world.
Children see, children do.
*Lev Vygotsky, a well-respected Russian psychologist had a groundbreaking theory that language was the basis of learning. His points included the argument that language supports other activities such as reading and writing. In addition, he posited that logic, reasoning, and reflective thinking were all possible as a result of language. This led to the development of instructional strategies to support growth in literacy as well as a reassessment of the classroom setup. Teachers were to encourage leadership in the classroom, collaborative learning, and thoughtful discussions. With the exception of independent tasks, which were also included, the goal was to create purposeful, meaningful exchanges between students. The role of the teacher was to facilitate learning by directing the dialogue and confirming contributions in an effort to further motivate the students. In all humility, by our intervention in the child-directed play, we managed to abide by the teachings of Lev Vygotsky by fulfilling the role of a teacher to support cognitive development in children.