Children learn so fast, and you are either delighted or dismayed at their advances, depending. For one little girl in Spain who started school this fall, the first thing her parents became aware of her learning was how to be extremely bossy and to do that bossing at full volume. Twenty-five students in class, and the teacher has to yell to be obeyed. An order that isn’t issued at a roar simply isn’t heard. So home from kindergarten this three-year-old came, a little more assertive each afternoon. “You there!” she might bellow. “You, sit down. And you, too. Silence everyone! And you, wait there.” That’s what I heard one afternoon. Then in a show of great disgust she turned her back on her audience: her mother, grandfather, and me. Within a second, she’d wheeled around again to catch us not obeying. “You just don’t listen,” she exclaimed testily. Her mother rolled her eyes and assured me in an aside that this was the result of schooling.
A lot of other things she was learning too. To hold a paint brush, to wash it after using it, to mop up spilled paint. To sing chants and make the hand motions to accompany the words. To name farm implements and produce in Asturian or, in her case because she’d been her grandfather’s helper for three years, to blurt out the names that she already knew, such as panoya, as she did when the teacher brought an ear of corn to class.
The learning was reinforced by drawings the children made. At the end of the fall, on the last day before Christmas vacation, the kids were sent home with a folder of their accumulated work. Her grandfather had gone along with the girl’s mother to pick her up from school that day, and when she emerged with the folder clutched in one hand, she waved it at him. “Let’s see,” he said, but she put the folder behind her back. “Mine!” she proclaimed.
Her grandfather had brought her a Christmas pastry to snack on, and she eagerly reached for it with her free hand. But when it came to unwrapping the treat, she was hampered by the folder still held tightly in the other hand.
“Here,” said her grandfather, putting out his hand for the folder, “let me hold it for you.”
“No,” she said, swinging the folder away from him as he reached for it.
“Then I’ll unwrap the pastry for you,” he said, reaching again.
“Nooo!” the child answered emphatically, dodging away. Among her like-sized classmates, just as intent on possession as she was, she’d obviously learned how to hold on to what was hers.
Her mother wasn’t allowed to help either. But how can you manage, they asked, and she retorted, “I’ve got two hands, or what do you think?” Then what did she do? Moved a few feet off and set her folder on a bench. Two hands are good, but a mind of your own and a chance to exercise it are even better for dealing with life’s challenges. Success is sweet. The little girl smiled as she opened and then bit into her Christmas treat.
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