Saturday, May 12, 2012


In their standard grammar school education, the three grandie girls (now 11, 9 and 9) get to follow the prescribed path for a prescribed time in age-segregated classes, learning to read and write, add numbers, sample science and social studies, acquire a national history, absorb the essential received ideas that bind a society together.

After school they sometimes play with their friends, in forms of play that are increasingly virtual as society edges further into deferred existence mode, but for years now, when the Trio of Brio come here to our house on the mountain by the forest above the Lake they get outdoor jobs to do, they get boots, gloves, big tools and - at first - necessary guidance on how to use shovel, rake, axe, hammer, pick etc.

So for some time they've been using mauls and wedges to split firewood, axes, saws, clippers to prune trees and bamboo, they dig holes with shovels, they want to learn to do all of it, use all the tools, now and then taking impromptu discovery breaks, e.g., one of them found a frog under a rock, they decided to name it by committee ("Oompa-kun" was the unanimous choice) or they play with long boards and log sections (an interesting sort of rock-and-rolling seesaw - for children only, btw) then back to work raking the garden, scything underbrush, tending the fire (with a brief sports break, dipping long, curvy windfall cedar branches into the fire to catch the firefish that swim in the flames), raking leaves into big piles, sweeping cuttings, clearing culverts, lugging buckets of leaf mould, planting seeds, pulling weeds, harvesting stuff etc., in the process acquiring considerable and increasingly useful counterweight to the virtual. It's a real lift to see how much they get done, how naturally comfortable they are with physical labor and how proud they are of what they achieve in the heavy realms.

By now, when we adults have to go inside to do our indoor work, we can leave the girls  in charge of everything: the fire, the wheelbarrow, all the tools, the tasks to be done - it's all up to them - and a bigness fills their boots. Tugging on their work gloves, they set out to tend to everything, and how they change, then; they become their full selves, walk around with authority and intention: straight, tall, assertive, wasting no kiddy time, getting the things done, taking the tasks to heart and taking care doing them...

Proud delight it is, to watch them from the upstairs window, see them find reward in being responsible, a character strength of great importance for the future of humanity, though not as important as firefish.



Insightful commentary on young character and responsibility. Every parent in the U.S. should read this post -- barbara

Robert Brady said...

Children are born curious, hungry to learn, and love to take on challenges; teacher/adult/parental interest is essential. The kids need to know that they and their efforts are genuinely respected.

Rob said...

I completely agree with Barbara. If the Trio ever wants a working vacation in NH, I have some jobs they can do.